Dec. 14, 2011 at 5:03 PM ET
There's really no other way to put this: During a Pilates stretching exercise, a 59-year-old woman said her body "swallowed" one of her breast implants. Sounds like something we just made up, but the woman's case is the subject of an unbelievable report, just published online in the latest New England Journal of Medicine.
The woman was a breast cancer survivor who'd had a double mastectomy, and afterward had gotten breast implants. During a Pilates routine, she was doing a Valsalva maneuver, a breathing technique in which a person takes a deep breath and holds it while bearing down. (In other words, you're going through the motions of exhaling forcibly, but without letting any air escaping through the mouth or nose.)
Doing a Valsalva maneuver increases pressure inside your chest cavity. In this lady's case, enough pressure built to essentially send her right implant through the thin tissue between her ribs and into the space in between the lungs. This left her more perplexed than anything -- where did it go?! Fortunately (and incredibly), she said upon arriving in the the emergency department of the Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore that she wasn't experiencing any chest pain or shortness of breath.
"I can picture how this could happen in a freak occurrence," says Dr. Anthony Youn, a Michigan-based cosmetic surgeon and frequent contributor to msnbc.com, who didn't treat this patient but gave us his professional opinion on what the heck happened here.
Note that Youn called this a "freak occurrence" -- this is not exactly going to happen to your average Pilates lover, as this woman's case had some extra complications. She'd recently undergone a surgery to repair her heart's mitral valve, a procedure that typically involves some separating of the muscles that run between the ribs.
"What likely happened in this instance is that the breast implant was placed under the chest muscle and on top of the ribs, an extremely common practice in breast reconstruction," Youn says. "When the patient Valsalva'd, the pectoralis (chest) muscle likely contracted and pushed the implant through the space between her ribs," which was particularly fragile after the valve surgery.
"The weakened scar tissue was easily torn, and the strength of the pectoralis muscle pushed the implant deep into her chest," Youn explains.
The woman was treated at Johns Hopkins, where surgeons retrieved the implant from within her chest and put it back where it belonged.