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Causes of Popping Noise in the Shoulder

By Last updated on December 16th, 2020December 16th, 2020No Comments

Moving the shoulder can trigger a clicking sound or a popping sensation near where the joint connects at the top of your arm.

That popping feeling is called crepitus.

In some cases, there’s a sharp pain or warmth that comes along with cracking, grinding, or popping shoulder. That pain can be a symptom of other health conditions or an injury.

Shoulder pain, injuries, and stiffness are the third most common muscle and joint issues that bring people to the doctor.

What Is Shoulder Popping?

To understand why popping takes place it is necessary to understand the anatomy of the shoulder joint. In actuality, the shoulder joint is not a simple joint but a complex mix of bones, cartilage, tendons, and ligaments. It also has two linings protecting it called the synovium and the bursa.

The shoulder is arranged in a ball-and-socket joint configuration. The humerus bone fits underneath and inside of the scapula, or shoulder blade, and four muscles called the rotator cuff connect them. A structure made of cartilage, called the labrum, acts as a sort of soft cup inside the shoulder blade that holds the arm in place.

Your shoulder joint is connected in a way that enables maximum mobility of the arms. The same anatomy that enables a full range of motion also leaves the shoulder more vulnerable to injury than other joints.

Causes of Shoulder Popping

Injury to any of these structures affects the normal functioning of the shoulder, which tends to make a popping sound. The injuries to these structures can be caused due to normal activities of daily living – for example, it could be caused by pushing something hard at work, falling on the shoulders, injury from a contact sporting activity, or even a bad sleeping position.

Aging is also a major cause of the shoulder popping. This is because as an individual ages, the tendons and ligaments of the joints tend to get weaker and are therefore more prone to injury even with simple force. In some individuals, the structures tend to rub against each other and the friction caused due to this also causes popping and snapping of the shoulder.

As long as the popping of the shoulder is not accompanied by any pain there is no particular treatment required for it. Pain accompanied with popping of the shoulder is usually caused after a significant injury. Some of the other causes of shoulder popping is instability of the joint where dislocation occurs every now and then without any significant injury. The shoulder may also pop when the rotator cuff gets injured or gets torn. There may also be some tearing of the labrum or cartilage, or a presence of loose bodies in the shoulder joint.

Medical Conditions Associated With Shoulder Popping

Apart from the above mentioned reasons, there are also certain medical conditions that tend to cause shoulder popping. Some of these conditions are:

  • SLAP Lesions: The labrum is a mix of tissues which is situated around the socket joint of the shoulder. The function of the labrum is to make sure that the ligaments are attached to each other and the shoulder stays in position. Due to any traumatic event such as a fall or an injury during sporting activity the labrum may tear and cause the shoulder to pop or snap.
  • Tearing of the Rotator Cuff: If the tendons present in the rotator cuff are injured for any reason (most commonly a repetitive motion or sport), it results in tearing of the rotator cuff. This can lead to a separation of the ligaments which may result in shoulder popping.
  • Shoulder Instability: A shoulder joint is said to be unstable if it tends to get dislocated frequently. Dislocation means that the shoulder joint moves out of its normal anatomical position and this again results in popping of the shoulders. Shoulder instability is usually caused due to repeated stress to the shoulders and is found mainly in athletes who participate in sports such as tennis, swimming, baseball, for example.
  • Arthritis: is another medical condition which causes shoulders to pop. Arthritis is caused due to natural wear and tear of the joints. This condition develops with aging of an individual when the ligaments deteriorate, making them weak, which causes a popping or snapping sensation.

Normally, shoulder popping is a benign condition which happens to a lot of people every once in a while. Most of the time when the shoulder pops it is painless. When this sensation occurs along with pain, it may be time to seek the advice of a medical professional to begin the recovery process.

What Is The Treatment For Shoulder Popping?

Shoulder Popping does not require any invasive treatment unless it is caused by a labrum or rotator cuff tear, which may need surgical correction. The frontline treatment for a popping shoulder is to rest the shoulder for some time, stay away from activities which may aggravate the symptoms, and ice the affected shoulder by applying ice for 15 to 20 minutes two to three times a day.

Anti-inflammatories may also be of help in case there is some pain associated with the popping. Physical therapy and exercises are also an important aspect of treatment of shoulder popping. The physical therapist will formulate an exercise regimen best suited for each individual in order to strengthen and stabilize the shoulders, as well as prevent frequent dislocations and improve range of motion.

In some cases, home remedies are enough to treat shoulder pain. If shoulders simply crack or pop occasionally without causing a great deal of discomfort, home treatment may be enough. Some popular home remedies for the shoulder are:

  • Posture: Working to sit straight up while at a computer or driving may make a world of difference in how shoulders feel. Good posture can end chronic shoulder pain for some people.
  • Foam roller: Frequently used by physical therapists, foam rollers are relatively inexpensive and can be easily purchased for home use. These rollers stimulate the soft tissue in the shoulder. If shoulder pain is caused by soreness, sitting all day, or poor posture, this kind of manual therapy can help.
  • Yoga: Yoga can be an effective way to minimize and improve shoulder pain over time. Yoga has the added benefit of improving posture and breathing.
  • Cold compress or ice: If your shoulder is injured, applying a cold compress or ice can reduce inflammation. This may numb your pain and decrease swelling. A cold compress may also help the shoulder injury to begin healing faster.

Though many at-home treatments can provide benefits for many, sometimes pain and popping persist. Corrective surgery may become necessary for some injuries, but it is important to consider all treatment options available when making the decision to undergo surgery.

Alternative Treatments for Shoulder Injury

The emerging field of Regenerative Medicine seeks to treat injury using a patient’s own cells. CELLAXYS offers two types: Stem Cell Therapy and Platelet-Rich Plasma (PRP) Therapy.

Stem cells are gathered using a patient’s blood, bone marrow, or fat tissue. This type of cell is located throughout the body, and they are used for natural healing processes.

PRP is formed when a patient’s blood is placed in a centrifuge, which separates platelets from other components in the blood. Platelets are also used in the body to help heal injury or damage.

Doctors who are equipped with stem cells or PRP then place it in a syringe. They use imaging techniques such as ultrasound or MRI to guide the needle to the exact location where the solution will be the most beneficial.

As both of these types of cells are already being used in the body’s natural healing process, increasing the amount of them at an injury site can provide many benefits. Some of the benefits of these treatments include decreased pain and a shorter recovery time. Some patients are even able to surpass the need for surgery after only a few months of regenerative therapy.


Shoulder popping and discomfort aren’t uncommon, but finding the specific cause can be a little tricky. If you notice redness, swelling, or warmth around the shoulder joint, make an appointment with a doctor to discuss concerns. Be sure to mention any recurring pain or discomfort that happens with daily activity.

Dr. Matthew HC Otten

Director of Regenerative Orthopedic and Sports Medicine
Fellowship-trained & Board Certified in Sports medicine
Director Angiography at Harvard Clinical Research Institute
Michigan State University Alumni


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