The sternum or breastbone covers the chest region and is a long flat tie-shaped bone. There are many pairs of bones that are interconnected by coastal cartilage which is fused with the sternum. Sometime you can hear a popping or cracking sound from the breastbone which can be due to trauma, physical strain and muscle spasm. In many cases the popping sound is accompanied with pain in the breastbone.
It is common for getting popping joints while stretching. You need not have to worry for cracking joints until there is pain or limited mobility of the sternum. Popping of sternum can occur suddenly or while making stretching movements. For some people it may occur while taking a deep breath. It is quite possible to get relief from pain during popping sternum in some cases. If you are stressed you can get popping sound with pain in the breastbone.
Exact reason for popping of sternum is unknown. It may occur due to cracking of ligaments or partial dislocation of the joints or due to discharge of gas bubbles from the fluid. Some of you might have heard a grating noise from the breastbone. The causes of popping or cracking of sternum are varied and some of them are detailed here.
- Tightness Of Connective Tissues
It is the ligaments connected to the rib bones that control any kind of movements in the joints. When the connective tissues become tight due to some strenuous exercise or lifting heavy objects the movements will not be smooth like before. The connective tissues move over the rib joints while stretching movement creating a popping sound.
- Trauma or Injury
Any physical injury or trauma to the chest region can exert pressure on the muscles and tissues of the rib joints. It can cause damage to the ligaments leading to subluxation of joints. Under such situations, the connective tissues will not be able to offer full support to the rib joints. This would in turn force the injured tendons to snap over causing a cracking sound.
- Bursting Of Synovial Gas
Cartilages are present in every joints and bones which is responsible for flexible movements. Special lubricant called as synovial fluid lubricates the cartilage and joints so that the bones can move smoothly. Synovial fluid contains many gases and while making stretching movement the pressure in the fluid changes. This in turn will release some bubbles and eventually bursts to merge with the fluid. This might produce a cracking noise in the sternum.
Any swelling or inflammation of the cartilages in the 4th, 5th and 6th pair of ribs is known as costochondritis. Severe infections developing after surgery or sudden physical blow can cause inflammation of the cartilages. This can produce popping sound along with pain. Costochondritis is common among adults above 45 years. Dyspnea (shortness of breath), or lung disease like COPD can lead to costochondritis.
- Tietze’s Syndrome
Inflammation of coastal cartilages of 2nd and 3rd ribs is described as Tietze’s syndrome. Physical strain and trauma or persistent coughing can cause swelling of cartilages leading to cracking noise of the sternum. Continuous vomiting can also cause pressure on the sternum producing popping sound. After the inflammation the rib joints may not be able to move freely and they often grate over the cartilage when you move suddenly. This can cause cracking of sternum.
The signs can be very serious in severe cases of costochondritis and they may even disrupt your daily activities. In such cases you should seek prompt medical care to prevent any complications. If you have chronic pain for weeks together or if there is severe pain only on one side of the chest, or if you have sharp pain while coughing or sneezing or while taking deep breath, or if you feel constant pressure on the breastbone it can be something serious needing immediate medical attention.
Home Remedies :
No treatment is required for sternum popping if you are not having chest pain or other serious symptoms. You can use sports rubs like menthol or similar ones for relaxing the muscles. It is good to do a light firm massage to improve blood circulation and to relieving friction in the area. Apply cold compression or hot bags on the area to relax the muscles. This would not only give relief from popping sternum but also help in reducing the inflammation of cartilages. You can also try alternative treatment like acupuncture for improving blood circulation in the chest area or sternum. Do not wear tight corsets or shirts or bras if you have costochondritis since it can exert more pressure on the ribs and cartilages. Practice yoga or joint a meditation class to reduce the stress.