The cause for cracking noise from joints and bones, medically referred to as ‘crepitus’, is not clearly understood. Some experts suggest that the cracking noise is attributed to release of gases from the synovial fluid; others suggest the noise is as a result of the stretching of the connective tissue surrounding the joint.
While crepitus is more common and often heard when one stretches the knees, neck or knuckles, some people may experience it around the sternum. This experience is often referred to as ‘popping of the sternum’ and can be a cause of concern. Though in most cases, it is asymptomatic, some may experience pain or other symptoms.
What Causes A Popping Sternum?
The sternum or the breast bone is a T shaped bone located in the center of the chest. The sternum attaches the ribs either directly or via a cartilaginous extension. The sternum is an important bone, as it completes the formulation of the rib cage and helps protect internal organs like the heart and the lungs.
The sternum also plays a vital role in the respiratory movements of the chest and aids in what is called the ‘thoracic breathing technique’, more frequent among females and young toddlers.
There are a host of causes that can lead to popping sternum,
- Blunt trauma can cause injury to the sternum making it pop. Typical trauma can be in the form of blow to the chest, a car accident or a fall. The trauma can precipitate osteoarthritis ( a degenerative bone disease) which is can further aggravate the sterna popping
- Injury to the sternoclavicular joint can result in damage to the ligaments that support the sternum. While this is rare, it can lead to instability of the sternum and cause popping sensation. Lifting heavy weights can lead to subluxation of the sternum and lead to popping.
- Inflammation of the ribs or the costal cartilage, referred to as costochondritis, can also increase the possibility of sternum popping. The common causes for costochondritis include trauma, upper respiratory tract infections and severe coughing.
- Finally, sternum instability cause either due to a non union following a fracture or a surgery can also contribute to sternum popping.
Exercises To Fix A Popping Sternum
Here are some simple tips to fix a popping sternum. Protective padding and soft tissue massage are very beneficial, however physical therapy is considered to be most effective in the management of this condition,
- Shoulder blade squeezing is an effective technique to fix a popping sternum. Stand straight. Squeeze the shoulder blades backwards, as far behind as possible. Hold it for a couple of seconds. Repeat it about seven to eight times in one sitting. Ensure that this exercise doesn’t result in increase in pain or other associated symptoms.
- Deep breathing exercises can also be equally beneficial. Sit or stand with your back straight. Take a deep breath, without aggravating the symptoms and then gradually relax. Don’t raise your shoulders but instead focus on abdominal breathing. Repeat this three to four times in one sitting.
- Rotation in sitting is another technique that can help deal with popping sternum. Sit erect with your arms around your chest. Now rotate gently on to one side, till you feel a stretch. Hold the position for a couple of seconds. Repeat it with the other side.