Pectus Excavatum and Sternum Popping in 2022 – 5 Causes, Exercises, & More

Evidence Based This post has medical citations

Many of us with pectus excavatum can pop our sternum like cracking knuckles. I never knew this was a trait shared by all of us with sunken chests until I stumbled upon it randomly on a forum. 

I feel the urge to do this when I wake up in the morning or train my chest muscles in the gym. I feel pressure on my sternum, and I know I need to pop it. I pop it by squeezing my shoulder blades together, bringing my shoulders back, twisting my torso, taking a deep diaphragmic breath, holding the fingers interlaced, getting them in front, and then pulling them overhead. 

5 Reasons Why Your Sunken Sternum Pops 

There are a few reasons why your breastbone may pop if you have pectus excavatum. 

Joint or Muscular Tension

If you follow an intense program and don’t take rest days as you should, the joints and muscles connected with the sternum can swell, and this will cause popping. I followed an intense push-pull-legs routine three years ago, and my workouts lasted two hours. I didn’t take any days off.

My sternum hurt while doing bench press, push-ups, dips, and pullovers. After going home, my sternum was cracking a lot. This was probably caused by joint and muscle tension because after taking some time off, the pain and cracking intensity went away. It would be best to seek medical attention to determine what is causing the popping and that the sternum isn’t fractured.


This is inflammation of the cartilage that connects the ribs to the sternum. It can improve on its own for a few weeks, but it can last for a few months or even more.

Costochondritis doesn’t have a precise cause. It usually occurs on the left side of the breastbone and feels sharp and pressure-like pain. If you think this, please seek medical treatment because the symptoms are almost the same as more dangerous conditions.


Stress worsens the cracking sounds of the breastbone and increases pain and swelling in this area. This happens especially during a panic attack. Most of us with pectus excavatum are generally anxious about our deformity and physical appearance. This may be why many people with this deformity experience more sternum cracking than others.

Muscle Cramps

This is a sudden contraction of the muscle. It can move the joints connected with the muscle out of place in some cases. THat’s because when the muscles contract, they become tight and limit the joint flexibility. 

Sternal Instability

This happens when the breastbone is separated during chest surgery. Post-surgically, you may experience sternal instability, which is described as a popping sound of the chest. Some people that underwent Ravitch or Nuss procedures experience this happening. Please, see the doctor if you experience clicking sternum post-surgically. 

Water Bucket Explanation

When you feel the pressure is building up and you feel the urge to pop the sternum, please don’t do it right away. 

There’s a good explanation of this by using a bucket. Suppose the bucket handle is a rib on the sides that run to the sternum. The front point of the bucket will be the sternum, and the back is the spine. What will usually happen is that the handle should move freely.

There is more movement in the back and more movement in the front. That’s how a standard rib functions. When the sternum is injured, the back becomes very tight. When you move, all the movement comes in the front.

You will get a lot of pressure in the front of the sternum, and it will get inflamed. The need to pop will occur because it wants to move freely, but it is stuck in the back. When you pop, it will become loose, and you’ll feel like you’re good to go.

The problem will happen again because the back is still tight. You will need to free the front area up and put less stress on the breastbone. You need to open up the back, so everything will move freely as it is intended. If it is stuck in the back, the front will need to do more, get more inflamed, and begin to hurt eventually. 

How I Managed My Cracking Sternum

I am not a physical therapist, but I studied them a lot. I practiced what they were saying, and that helped me a lot. I am just sharing what helped me overcome the poppy sternum problem caused by my pectus excavatum. 

The exercises I am about to share aren’t dangerous at all. I highly recommend you try it if you want to eliminate this problem. 

What Worsened the Popping

My poor pectus posture worsened my sternum pain and cracking, and doing bench pressing and weighted dips without taking the time to recover adequately. Sitting too much in an improper position will make you want to crack the sternum a lot.

What helped me here was using a stand-up desk every time I needed to use the computer. Even two hours a day, cutting sitting time will do wonders for your poppy sternum. 

When you’re inactive, and you don’t train, that’s the time when your sternum will pop even more frequently.

I can feel it in my sternum. Now I only feel it in my back when I am inactive. When I used to feel it in the sternum, I also felt the pressure in the back. There’s a correlation there. 

3 Ways to Crack Your Chest Effectively

Torso Twist

When sitting for a long time, stand up and twist your torso 180 degrees to the front while squeezing the glutes. Your upper body should be the only thing that should twist while your arms are in a cactus position.

I usually do this by feeling. I sometimes roll my shoulders blades and try to move the stubborn parts of our upper bodies.

Upper Back Stretch

You can stretch the upper back by finding a comfortable shoulder height, crossing your arms, and letting yourself backward while your shoulders roll forward and your arms are fully extended. The upper back muscles will stretch a lot while you do this. You’ll feel amazing.

You can still move with the hips to target one side more than the other. Switch the sides of your arms next and lean as much as possible into it. This is a fantastic way to open up the thoracic spine even more. 

Broomstick Tip

You can also take a broomstick, put it in a doorway, and do this exercise. Opening up the spine and finding mobility in the upper body will make your sternum pop less often, and it will help you reduce pain. Try these two exercises and see how your body feels.

4 Tips to Reduce Cracking and Pain

Rest and Fix Imbalances

If you feel pain while cracking the sternum, and every time you do dips or push-ups, I recommend you take a break for at least a month and focus primarily on improving your posture.

Stretch the tight muscles that worsen your posture, and strengthen the musculature of the upper back and rear shoulders. Fix the pectus pot belly (anterior pelvic tilt), forward head posture, and kyphosis.

Avoid building the chest too much and emphasize your back, glutes, and upper hamstrings. Fix the imbalances in your body, such as the uneven chest muscles and uneven shoulder height.

I did a lot of weighted dips with an improper form where my shoulders were almost touching my ears, which further worsened the pain and made my sternum crack more frequently than ever before.

Doing yoga and Pilates helped me a lot with my posture, too, while helping me stretch the tight postural muscles and strengthen the weak ones. 

Peanut Mobility

You can take a peanut to increase your thoracic spine mobility. Take it between your shoulder blades and your spine in between the globes. While you move slowly, you can dig into those spinal erectors around the T spine. You can work the tissue and get it loose. Hopefully, you will relieve some pain there. 

Avoid getting hunched over. You put extra pressure on your sternum. If you exercise this way, it will get lost. Make sure the scapula is retracted. 

Dr. Rowe Exercise

The exercise I will show will help you if your breastbone feels out of place and pops a lot. I saw this exercise presented by Dr. Michael Rowe, a chiropractor at St Joseph, MI, on his YouTube channel.

According to Dr. Rowe, this exercise is safe and doesn’t require any equipment, just your hands and time. 

Focus on getting a good contact point for this self-adjustment. Start at the area of the sternum. The ribs that come off the sides of the sternum are very sensitive, with a lot of nerves. Be very careful when you start this exercise. 

How to Do This Exercise

  • Go over the sternum with your hands. Go to the side where your ribs are irritated. Please find the exact spot where it hurts. When it starts to feel sensitivity, it is time to isolate the nerve and, with two fingers, roll over the area to find the particular rib. It feels like a round mounded pile of bone.
  • When you isolate it, trace it back to the sternum. Get the thumb and press when we’re going to the contact point. It is time to press to the side and feel a good sensitivity. Ribs are sensitive.
  • Take the palm are and put it over the spot. Push into it to get tissue tension, pull over, and go towards the shoulder. When you do this, the rib will be very isolated. Take a deep breath and expand the rib cage. Build more tissue tension there, rise that side shoulder and bring it back to a pec muscle stretch. It will put a lot of pressure on the area. Try to maintain this while putting contact on the rib with the hand.
  • Then roll the shoulder forward as much as you can. You will feel a pop, crack, or clicking sound when you do this. You’ll feel a fantastic relief after this. You will release the tension after this, breathing more freely than before. 

Modified Door Stretch

Stand in a doorway and put your arm on it. Take the bony part of the palm and press over the sternum to build muscle tension. Turn to the shoulder. When you feel pressure, lean forward with your body weight while your arm is placed on the doorway.

Keep learning. You will feel a pop when you do this. The more you stretch on it, the more it can pop. These exercises also help with costochondritis (an inflammation of the sternum).

When you hear that your breastbone is cracking, the sternocostal and costochondral joints in the chest wall make the sound. Yet, it is still unknown why these joints make this sound.

If you have pectus excavatum and your sternum cracks, it should not worry you unless you feel pain or discomfort while you crack the sternum. Sometimes the pop will alleviate some of the chest pain or discomfort you may be experiencing. 

Article by:

Mihail Veleski

My name is Mihail Veleski. I used to suffer from the pectus excavatum deformity during my teenage years.

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