Why Is My Shoulder Popping?

June 07, 2019

A woman exercises her popping shoulder.
Stephanie Dwilson

If your shoulder is popping, it's not a good sign, but it's not necessarily serious. There are several ailments that could cause your shoulder to feel like it's popping or cracking; it's not always a dislocated shoulder. Here's a look at the main issues that could be at play and what corrective actions you might want to take. The next time you're wondering, "Why is my shoulder popping?" consider these possibilities.

Dislocated Shoulder

A common cause of popping is a dislocated shoulder. This can come from an injury, fall or repetitive activities like throwing a football, Cleveland Clinic notes. You may need to have the shoulder manipulated back into place, which sometimes requires a doctor's or nurse's help. Symptoms of a dislocation include a visibly deformed shoulder, extreme pain, swelling, bruising or being unable to move the shoulder at all, according to Mayo Clinic.

Torn Shoulder

A popping sound may be the result of a torn rotator cuff or a torn glenoid labrum, the Arthritis Foundation notes. The labrum is cartilage around the rim of the shoulder socket, and the rotator cuff is a network of muscles and tendons that cover the upper arm and help it rotate. With either type of tear, you may feel popping when you move, pain or weakness. The tear may happen suddenly or gradually from repetitive movement.

Inflamed Bursa

Bursa are fluid-filled sacs that protect your joints, Healthline explains. Sometimes they can get inflamed, feel very painful and may even "pop" when you move your arms.

Old Injuries and an Unstable Shoulder

If your shoulder pops a lot, it may be unstable. Once you've dislocated your shoulder, it may be more prone to dislocation again. And if you broke your shoulder once in the past, your shoulder might still pop or grind on occasion even after it's healed, Healthline shares. Take care. Any kind of injury might leave your shoulder weaker and more prone to re-injury down the line. Some people are even more likely genetically to have weak shoulders, Cleveland Clinic notes. If your shoulder is unstable, you may feel numbness in the shoulder, pain or tingling radiating down your arm in addition to hearing a popping sound.

Benign Growth

Your shoulder may crack or pop when you lift your arm if you have a benign growth called an osteochondroma, Healthline notes. It's essentially new bone growing on top of old bone. Some people don't have any symptoms, but others may hear their shoulder cracking from time to time.

Arthritis

Arthritis can also lead to a popping sound as the cartilage wears down over time. Medication, physical therapy or rest can help.

Gas Escaping

Sometimes a popping shoulder may be fairly innocent, like cracking your knuckles. Moving your shoulders may cause your joints to quickly release gas and an accompanying popping sound, Healthline explains. This is related to air bubbles in your joints and isn't serious.

Possible Treatments

If you think you've injured your shoulder, try icing and resting it, Cleveland Clinic suggests. Sometimes all you need is some rest and over-the-counter pain relievers. Improve your posture while you sit and type, and try a foam roller or yoga to ease the tension in your body.

See a doctor if the pain is severe or the problem persists. You may need X-rays to determine the severity. Your doctor may recommend keeping your arm in a sling while your shoulder heals or prescribe corticosteroid injections. After a while, you may need physical therapy or an exercise routine to strengthen your muscles. In extreme cases, surgery may be needed. In less severe cases, a chiropractor, physical therapist or massage therapist might help.

The best preventive care for a popping shoulder is consistent exercise to strengthen it and prevent future injuries, Mayo Clinic suggests. Talk to your doctor, physical therapist or personal trainer about which exercises are best for your situation. As you can see, if you're wondering "Why is my shoulder popping?" there are a lot of possible answers. Many times, some rest and exercise are all you need.

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