Are you having issues with your shoulders? Are they cracking, popping, snapping, grinding, clicking, or otherwise making you uncomfortable or causing you pain?

Think about how many times a day you use your shoulder joints – every time you utilise the full range of motion in your shoulder, for instance brushing your teeth. Now imagine how rough it would be if every time you used your shoulder joints if it was extremely painful.

Think you may have a potential shoulder condition or are you experiencing shoulder cracking, clicking, or popping?

Read on to learn more about when your shoulders are normal and when you should consider seeing a shoulder specialist.

What to do if you have shoulder joint pain or popping

If you’re experiencing shoulder popping, clicking, or cracking, that reality may be closer than you think. These symptoms can be indicators for more serious shoulder conditions such as shoulder impingement, tendinosis, rotator cuff tears, and labral tears, among other potential shoulder issues.

Shoulder conditions like these can be some of the most difficult and even life altering problems, and the issues that result from shoulder conditions or injuries can extend until long after you’ve healed from the initial damage.

What’s more, you can experience severe shoulder pain and popping when lifting arm that negatively affects your day to day life without actually experiencing a catastrophic injury.

Even if your shoulder keeps popping, clicking, cracking isn’t painful at the moment, these issues can be indicative of a more serious problem that can be incredibly painful and detrimental to your quality of life down the road.

After all, serious shoulder conditions may get worse over time if left untreated. And you don’t even want to imagine how tough life would be without shoulder joints that are working properly and without pain.

shoulder clicking

What are typical symptoms of shoulder popping?

If you’re reading this you’ve probably googled something like “shoulder popping”, “shoulder clicking”, “shoulder cracking” “shoulder noise”, “popping noise in my shoulder” or something similar.

You’ve probably noticed the noises like pops, clicks, and cracks when you lift your arms when you’re working out – exercises like push-ups, bench presses, lateral raises, and similar types of movement can definitely trigger shoulder popping with no pain.

You may also notice it during everyday activity, like when you’re reaching for something above shoulder height or lifting something heavy – or simple everyday movements such as slinging your purse, backpack, or laptop bag over your shoulder.

You may even notice shoulder popping or cracking when you’re shrugging or rolling your shoulders back. Even if it doesn’t actively hurt, changes in the way your joints work can be very concerning and it’s worthwhile to get things checked out by a shoulder specialist.

And you should always get things checked out before they become a health problem in general – you never want a mild pain or a twinge like a shoulder cracking, popping, or snapping to affect your physical abilities or day to to day life.

shoulder cracking

What causes shoulder popping, cracking, and clicking?

So what causes shoulder popping, clicking, or cracking in the first place? It can be any number of things, ranging from a recent injury to minor everyday strains finally becoming too much to live with and therefore requiring medical intervention.

That’s because the shoulder joint is a very complex joint composed of bone, cartilage, ligaments, tendons, and two types of tissues – the bursa and the synovium – which line the inside of our shoulder joint spaces.

So, when any of these elements are inflamed or injured, a grinding, popping, clicking, or cracking feeling can occurred. And when tendons or other tissues become inflamed, they swell and cause everything to tighten up and make grinding, popping, clicking, snapping, or cracking sounds.

If any of these tissues and structures are injured or simply inflamed, the smoothly functioning shoulder can cause popping, snapping or clicking.

These “injuries” can be simply due to everyday use, a sports injury, chronic repetitive stress due to sports or workout routines, or significant trauma from a fall or accident. Calcific tendonitis could also cause your shoulder joints to snap, pop, crack, or grind.

Why does my shoulder pop, crack, or click?

There can be any number of things that cause shoulder cracking or clicking, but a common one – and what causes that unique feeling and sound – is the muscle tendons in your shoulder moving across the bone. These tendons are extremely elastic and strong, like guitar strings.

And they act like guitar strings when they move or vibrate across the bones of the shoulder, causing the various clicking, popping, or cracking noises.

You can also consider the movement of tendons, muscles, and bones together to be similar to a rugby scrum – everything works in harmony and you don’t notice anything until the wrong movement is made or the wrong note is played.

If your shoulder recently started clicking, cracking, popping, or making any other unusual noises or causing you pain, you may have injured the muscle somehow, therefore altering its shape or the track or groove in which it operates.

A sudden onset issue like this means that’s definitely time to see a shoulder specialist for an assessment and ways to prevent further damage, whether your shoulder joint pain and problem ends up being major or minor.

This is one of those situations where an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, so seeing a specialist or an orthopaedic shoulder surgeon who deals with shoulder joint issues is a good idea. Do it sooner rather than later!

Some minor causes of shoulder clicking or popping include:

  • Scapulothoracic bursitis – the inflammation of the bursa sac that helps two joints move or glide together smoothly
  • Malunion of a fracture of the scapula or ribs – this occurs if you’ve recently fractured your shoulder or ribs and the bones didn’t heal properly, making them prone to “catching” on each other therefore making popping sounds or other noise
  • Labral tears – damage to the labrum, the cartilaginous structure that holds your shoulders together
  • Osteochondroma – a benign bone or cartilage growth that occurs in the shoulder, scapula, or rib cage
  • Rotator cuff syndrome

Bigger issues that may require more medical intervention are rotator cuff tears, arthritis, and biceps tendon problems. However, no matter what issues you might have, seeing an orthopaedic shoulder specialist when you have shoulder joint cracking, popping, or clicking is always a good idea.

shoulder clicking when raising arm

When to seek treatment for shoulder popping and shoulder cracking

Having a sudden onset of shoulder popping pain or clicking can be very worrisome, but it’s particularly problematic if you’ve experienced a recent shoulder injury – meaning its time to see a shoulder specialist or orthopaedic surgeon. If your shoulder was recently injured and it is now sliding in and out of place (also referred to as dislocating), it may snap or pop, or you may have a grinding sensation when you move or bend it.

Shoulder pain and popping

Issues like bicep tendonitis, torn rotator cuffs, torn labrums, or similar injuries can all cause shoulder pain and popping; moreover, you could have a “loose body” getting caught in your shoulder, which means that a piece of cartilage has been torn loose and is floating around and causing the clicking feeling.

What’s more, if the snapping or cracking is in the back of the shoulder could be the result of an issue like bursitis with your scapula or shoulder blade.

If you haven’t had a recent injury and have no history of shoulder problems, know that ageing can naturally cause your shoulder joints and tissues to roughen and that may cause some relatively harmless snapping, popping, or clicking.

It’s important to understand that painless shoulder clicking or popping often does not require any treatment at all, but of course it’s always good to have things checked out by a shoulder specialist or an orthopaedic surgeon.

How an orthopaedic shoulder surgeon can help with pain

When you’re experiencing shoulder issues of any kind – whether it is clicking, cracking, popping, or anything else, your first step should be to look at your options for a shoulder specialist like an orthopaedic shoulder surgeon and the associated professionals they work with.

After all, your shoulder joints are extremely complex and there are a variety of conditions and issues that you may have if you’re experiencing shoulder cracking, snapping, or popping.

While treatments can run range from physiotherapy to surgery, working with an orthopaedic surgeon can help you alleviate the pain and bring full movement back to your shoulder joints if you are dealing with an injury or arthritis.

popping in shoulder

How a physiotherapist can help with posture

If you have shoulder joint issues that don’t require full on surgery or similar treatment from an orthopaedic surgeon, you can ask for a referral to a physiotherapist. These professionals specialise in realigning your movements and adjusting your posture that allow your shoulder muscles, bones, tendons, and tissues to work together more efficiently.

A physiotherapist can help with posture corrections, stretching and strengthening exercises, all of which will help your bones work together more efficiently. They can help you develop exercise routines that will encourage faster healing, other stretches and strengthening exercises, and physical activity modifications, ways to encourage and promote quicker healing, and anything else you can do to help deal with shoulder joint issues like cracking, snapping, or popping.

Know that if you raise the issue with your doctor and get referred to the appropriate shoulder specialists, you can see significant improvements in your shoulder popping, cracking, snapping, or clicking symptoms over time.

What to do if you have shoulder issues?

Shoulder popping, cracking, snapping, clicking, and any other issues mean that you should at contact a shoulder specialist to take a look at your shoulder joints and diagnose any medical problems.

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