For years now I’ve been able to crack my sternum. If I arched my upper back and spread my arms or pulled them above the head and backward, I would hear a cracking sound in the middle of the chest. At the beginning, it wasn’t a painful sensation. But with years I started to feel an uncomfortable tension or even pain in this part of the chest and cracking it would relieve the tension.

This tension occurs every now and then and usually it goes away within a day. Recently it got really painful. It was bugging me for days and I couldn’t crack it. It was time to do some research.

What I’ve learned is that there is a joint between the ribs and the sternum. This part that is connecting the ribs and the sternum is called costal cartilage. It’s a firm structure but a lot softer than the bone and it allows some small amount of movement in the ribs.

costal-cartilage Image source: 3D4medical

The phenomenon I’m experiencing is known as the “popping” sternum and the cause is probably a condition called costochondritis. It’s an inflammation of the junctions where the upper ribs join with the costal cartilage. The cause is usually unknown, but it can be caused by heavy lifting or strenuous exercise and lifters have been reporting it for years. Costochondritis is a relatively harmless condition and usually goes away without treatment.

Advice for relieving the pain is a bit conflicting and include chest stretching, chest exercise, taking pain relievers and rest. I guess I’ll need to try different things and see what works best.

To prevent the development of a costochondritis, pay attention to the speed of movement while doing chest exercises. When doing dips or bench press, make sure that the downward part of the movement is controlled. Slamming the bar on the chest and bouncing it off is not desirable.

Have you ever experienced this condition? How were you able to relieve the pain?