If you hear cracks and pops during your yoga practice, you are in good company. Yoga is a systematic approach to releasing tension in the body. The crackling of toes, a possible pop in the hip and a few crunchy sounds in the shoulder are the byproduct of a yoga practice.
If the cracking sound occurs in the area around the chest, you may hear it referred to as sternum cracking. The cracking is only a sound, not to be confused with the sound of a bone cracking. Still, it may raise some concerns.
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Causes of Sternum Popping
You can't actually crack your sternum like your knuckles. When you experience a cracking sound from the chest, it is not the sternum that cracks. The movement is occurring at the sternum and collarbone around a joint called the sternoclavicular joint, or the ribs in that area. One theory of the cause of these sounds is that gas bubbles accumulate in the joint, and movement causes release of this gas, resulting in a cracking or popping sound. The medical term for this is joint cavitation. Cracking sounds can also occur as anatomical structures — ligaments, tendons or bones — rub past each other.
Anatomy of Popping
The sternum, or breastbone, is connected to the clavicle (collar bones) by soft tissue. The joint where these two bones come together — the sternoclavicular joint — is the only joint that attaches the arm to the rest of the skeleton.
The very top of the sternum is the manubrium. The ribs connect to the sternum in the front of the body, and the spine in the back.
Bones are attached to bones by ligaments, and there is soft tissue between the bones, to create tension. A moderate amount of tension holds the body in place. Too much tension may cause stress. If there is too much stress the body may react. This reaction — the ligaments popping, a rib moving or cartilage breaking — could cause the sensation referred to as sternum cracking.
Frequent Sternum Popping or Cracking
If you feel the need to crack the sternum, or if it happens every time you back bend in yoga, you might be putting too much pressure on that specific place. The sound can be a sign that there is stress on the joint. People who continually crack the body might consider if there is an actual benefit to the movement they are choosing or if a less aggressive posture is more supportive of the body. Other reasons for frequent cracking include past trauma, inflammation or arthritis.
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Prevent Cracking Sternum
If you are experiencing sternum cracking and want it to end, begin by observing the postures that cause cracking.
Sternum cracking usually occurs in twists and back bends. You can prevent sternum cracking by limiting the range of motion in the area of the sternum. It may be necessary to twist or back bend less. Consult with your yoga instructor for modifications with poses that cause sternum popping.