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Hi and thanks for the query.
This kind of popping is seen in spinal instability and this can be due to laxity of ligaments in general, muscle spasms or degenerative disc disease, this can predispose one to prolapsed discs in the spine as well.
The tightness in the muscles supplied by that area of the spine is due to nerve impingement due to entrapment or herniation of the intervertebral disc. This pop causes the intervertebral disc to pop out of its place and back in again causing the pain. The pain is excruciating since, the disc impinges the nerve when it pops out. OTC pain killers and massage etc can not do much for the sharp pain but can help in more chronic pain due to this.
The best course of action here will be to see his PCP and get this examined, x rays of the cervical and dorsal spine in two views and then a referral to the Neurologist for a more thorough exam and MRI of the spine. The treatment starts from conservative medical management and physiotherapy and core muscle strengthening exercises. Intra vertebral cortison shots are another option. Surgical correction in severe cases.
Let me know if you have other queries about this.
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Taking deep breaths initiates contraction of the intercostal muscles and muscles of the core that take attachment at or around the vertebrae. Deep breath requires the spine to be very stable. Instability can lead to movements due to force vectors acting on the vertebra and induce popping.