CRACK. CLICK. GRIND. POP.


WHY DOES MY SHOULDER MAKE NOISE?

 

A noisy shoulder isn’t inherently dangerous or problematic. Many people experience shoulder cracking, clicking, or popping without any pain. Often your shoulder muscles, ligaments, tendons, and bones are all working together without injury even if they make noise.

However, if you experience pain along with unusual sounds, it could be a sign of something more serious. If the pain isn’t severe, you can try at-home treatments including stretches and strengthening exercises. Check out our Instagram feed for a variety of suggested shoulder exercises.

If the pain persists or gets worse, consult with a physical therapist or orthopedic doctor. Leaving injuries untreated can result in more serious shoulder complications.

 

Common causes of cracking, clicking, grinding, and popping in a healthy shoulder include:

 

  1. Release of gas

Cracking or popping is often an escape of air in the joint. Synovial fluid lubricates joints. This fluid consists of oxygen, carbon dioxide, and nitrogen. Sometimes gas is released when the joint moves and you feel/hear the crack or pop.

 

  1. Tendons rubbing over bone

Tendons connect muscle to bone. Tendons can become tight from either exercise or from prolonged postural positions that put muscles in a shortened position. These tight tendons can rub over bony prominences with movement, causing a clicking or cracking sensation. These sensations are generally painless and can be resolved with manual therapy and mobility exercises.

 

  1. Joint instability

Cracking, clicking, and popping are common symptoms associated with shoulder instability. The muscles that comprise the rotator cuff are responsible for stabilizing the head of the humerus in the shoulder joint. This group of muscles provides “fine tuning” of the humeral head and neuromuscular control of the shoulder complex during upper extremity movements. When these muscles are weak, the head of humerus can move around more than it should, leading to feeling of cracking, clicking, and popping. It is common for these symptoms to subside following a consistent strength and stabilization training program.

Clicking and popping may also be associated with shoulder labral tears. If your symptoms are accompanied by pain, you may want to seek medical attention from an orthopedic physician.

 

  1. Decreased cartilage

As we age, cartilage in our joints naturally starts to degenerate, resulting in rough areas on the ends of bones. This can cause the bones to no longer glide smoothly on each other and you may experience grinding or clicking. 


The symptoms or noises coming from your shoulder may be normal. However, if you are experiencing pain or are concerned of potential injury, consult with a physical therapist. Our Doctors of Physical Therapy are skilled in the diagnosis and treatment of a variety of shoulder conditions. Following a thorough evaluation, your physical therapist will address impairments related to instability, tightness, or weakness, or refer you to an orthopedic physician for further imaging if necessary.

 

Written by Hannah Sweitzer, DPT, OCS, CSCS 

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