Shoulder snapping or popping is a very common issue— it is so common that this is one of the most frequently searched topics on my website. I see between 5-10 patients a week who are simply in my office because they want to know – Why my shoulder snaps and pops?
The shoulder is a very complex joint composed of bone, cartilage, ligaments, tendons, and two different linings we call the synovium and the bursa. If any of these structures are injured, the smoothly functioning shoulder can pop, snap or click. These “injuries” can be simply due to everyday use, chronic repetitive stress of sports or because of a significant trauma, fall or accident.
Should I be worried if my shoulder pops?
Most of the time the clicking or snapping is due to everyday use and changes that occur naturally within our joints. As we age this causes some of the surfaces to roughen —thus when they rub against one another they will snap, click, or pop within the shoulder. In the majority of circumstances snapping or clicking of the shoulder is not an issue to worry about. Painless clicking and popping usually does not require any treatment at all.
On the other hand, clicking or popping of shoulder may also soon after an injury. That might mean that you have sustained a “significant” injury.
There are occasions when popping or snapping could signify a problem in your shoulder.
- If your shoulder was injured and it is now sliding in and out of place (instability), it may snap or pop.
- If the rotator cuff was injured or torn, the torn edge could snap or pop. Or…
- If the labrum of the shoulder was torn, your shoulder may also snap or pop.
- A piece of cartilage has torn loose and you have a “loose body” getting caught in the shoulder.
- If the snapping is in the back of the shoulder, it could be an issue with your shoulder blade, or scapula.
Painful clicking or popping of the shoulder.
Some conditions that will make a shoulder snap or pop include:
If the rotator cuff tendons are injured then there is a loose edge within the shoulder that can catch on other ligaments or structures in the shoulder. This may lead to painful snapping or popping. Click here to help determine if you have a rotator cuff tear? Click here to learn more about rotator cuff tears.
If the shoulder ligaments were injured from an acute injury or from repetitive stress, the shoulder may have become loose and is dislocating. This can lead the ball of the shoulder to slide up or over the edge of the socket. When the ball then falls back into place it may cause snapping or popping. This section on shoulder dislocations delves further into detail on shoulder instability. For more information. Click here to learn more about shoulder dislocations.
Rest assured that the vast majority of shoulder snapping or clicking is *normal*. If you have pain, or if you are concerned –or certainly if your snapping or popping started after an injury — an evaluation by a sports medicine trained orthopedist may be able to put your worst fears to rest.
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For more information on the anatomy or structures of the shoulder check out this section on shoulder anatomy.
Video on Causes of Shoulder Snapping or Popping