You may have experienced the cracking or popping sound in your chest on moving or while taking a deep breath. The sound comes from your sternum.
The sternum is a flat central bone in your chest, also known as breastbone. Your ribs are attached to sternum through strips of costal cartilage in the chest.
The cracking or popping sound is associated with these cartilage strips. The sound may be due to gas bubbles released from the joint fluid (cavitation), snapping of ligaments, or partial dislocation. You may also notice the sternum pops when you lean back.
In normal cases, sternum popping is same as the popping of other body joints and hence not a reason to worry. But if your chest hurts while the sternum pops, your costal cartilage may be inflamed. Therefore, in such conditions, you must consult your doctor immediately.
What Causes Sternum Popping?
There are many causes for sternum popping. Following are some of the common reasons for the popping sound in your sternum:
Any major or minor injuries to sternum can cause a popping sound. Accidents that make the chest slam against the airbags or steering injure the sternum as well as ribs.
Minor injuries that occur while playing sports, assaults, or fall can also be one of the reasons of sternum popping. You need to consult the doctor who will examine your chest for any fracture or dislocation by a chest X-ray.
2. Physical Strain
If your daily chore includes extensive workout or physically draining work, you may injure your breast bone through excessive work load or body posture.
Excessive weight lifting can hurt your chest muscles as well as chest bones. If your body posture is putting weight on one hand and elbow, gradually the weight transfers to costal cartilage and strain or inflammation is felt in the chest.
The second to tenth ribs are attached to sternum via synovial joints. A lubricating synovial fluid is present in the cartilage and sternum joint.
Costochondritis is the inflammation of your costal cartilage. Inflammation can occur post open heart surgery or due to physical strain. You may feel cracking or popping sound along with severe chest pain while breathing heavily, sneezing or coughing.
4. Tietze’s Syndrome
Tietze’s syndrome is a condition characterized by inflammation of second and third costal cartilage joints (1). With this condition, you may feel chest pain similar to costochondritis along with swelling.
The signs usually develop in people under the age of 40. You may feel mild to severe chest pain that may extend into the arms and shoulders. It is usually caused by the repeated minor physical injury, coughing, or vomiting for a long time.
Tietze syndrome may heal on its own without any medical treatment.
5. Muscle spasm
If muscle spasm causes partial dislocation of the ribs, then it can lead to sternum popping. It can occur due to physical strain during excessive physical exercise, heavy weight lifting or physical injury during accidents.
It is better to avoid activities that trigger the spasm. Dehydration and loss of minerals can also cause muscle spasm.
It is a condition characterized by joint pain. There are many types of arthritis, but all of those affects the joints and cause inflammation of the tissues lining your joints.
In mild cases, while moving your joints, you may hear a cracking sound between bones. In severe arthritis, joints degenerate, and movements cause excruciating pain in the joints.
Rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis usually affect the chest area. In rheumatoid arthritis, your joints are affected due to disorder in immune system whereas osteoarthritis causes degeneration of the joint tissues.
7. Calcification of the Costal Cartilage
Calcification refers to the deposition of calcium in the connective tissues of joints such as tendons or cartilage. Calcium deposition hardens the cartilage as opposed to its hard jelly-like consistency.
Such depositions may not cause a problem until the age of 30. But over the time they may cause body movements like leaning back or lifting weight painful.
It is important to note that calcium deposition is not caused by calcium rich diet rather it occurs due to infection, injury or autoimmune disorder.
8. Respiratory Diseases
Respiratory diseases such as dyspnea or pulmonary disease which are chronic and cause excessive sneezing or coughing, strain your chest muscle.
The strain extends to your sternum’s costal cartilage, and the sternum feels like it needs to pop.
Natural Remedies for Sternum Popping
For a healthy person, who did not have any injury or surgery that can hurt the chest area, sternum popping is completely normal.
Most cases of sternum popping go away on their own without any treatment or medication. But if you need to ease the sternum popping, here are few home remedies that can help:
1. Menthol Rubs
Chest rubs or sports rubs contain methanol which can relax muscles and also improve blood flow. Applying chest rub in affected area can heal faster and gives you relief from the pain.
2. A Relaxing Massage
If you have stiff muscles that cause sternum popping, a relaxing massage can help you. Your stiff muscles relax, and blood flow increases after an appropriate and light massage. This will give relief from chest pain.
3. Heat or Ice Packs
Application of heat packs or ice packs or applying both alternatively can relax the muscle around sternum as well as shoulders and increase blood flow. It can give you relief from the pain of sternum popping.
It is an ancient Chinese practice wherein needles are inserted at specific points in your body to relieve pain. It is believed that it works by improving blood flow in the affected areas.
You must consult a trained practitioner for acupuncture who uses special sterilized needles. Although there is no scientific or clinical evidence about how acupuncture works, many people feel relieved after acupuncture.
5. Cough Medicine
If chest pain or sternum popping is due to a consistent cough, you can take cough medicines to suppress a cough. You can also consume turmeric milk, ginger and honey to get relief from a severe cough.
Apart from normal viral infection, there can be many reasons for a consistent cough. Hence, you must confirm the under lying cause of your cough before consuming the cough suppressants.
Lifestyle Changes to Reduce Sternum Popping and Chest Pain
Few lifestyle changes can help you manage the popping of sternum and chest pain.
1. Ergonomic Workstation
An ergonomic workstation is one which improves productivity by assisting health, safety, and comfort of people.
This encourages you to work efficiently by maintaining a good work posture. For example, changing your work desk by keeping your keyboard and mouse separate and raising the monitor at the eye level.
2. Organize Your Home
While you are home, engage yourself in a relaxing hobby or try to meditate. It will help you to reduce anxiety, stress, and depression.
Also, while lifting heavy weight at home or in office, take care of your posture. For example, use a ladder to manage heavy materials from the height or replace them at a height from where you can manage them easily. Keep books at the level of your bench.
3. Avoid Tight Clothes
Cloths like tight shirts, corsets or underwire bras which put extra pressure on your chest, sternum, and ribs, must be avoided.
Sternum popping isn’t harmful. There is no need for immediate medical attention. But if you feel the natural remedies fail to relieve the pain, you should consult the doctor to find the underlying cause.