Why You Shouldn’t Ignore That Popping Sound in Your Shoulder

You’re noticing a popping sound in your shoulder when you lift your arms, exercise, or just roll your shoulders. You need to see a doctor so it doesn’t get worse. About a third of adults will have a shoulder issue at some point during their lifetime. 

The cracking or popping sound you hear in your shoulder called crepitus. Crepitus doesn’t necessarily cause pain. The good news is that your bones and tendons can make that popping sound even when nothing is seriously wrong. 

On the other hand, in some cases, popping can be a symptom of damage to your shoulder that can lead to more serious shoulder conditions. If you don’t get proper medical treatment, your muscles and tendons could heal in the wrong position and you could develop a very painful condition called frozen shoulder. That’s why it’s important to see a doctor. 

At Motion Medical Center, chiropractor Dr. Chris Blaha is specially trained to treat musculoskeletal pain and injuries, including conditions related to popping in the shoulders. 

Conditions that are usually pain-free

Following are some of the reasons you might hear that popping sound in your shoulder, although you may not have pain. 


One of the simplest explanations for that popping in your shoulder is the phenomenon of cavitation, which means your shoulder joint is releasing gas. The joint is covered with fibrous materials and is in a tightly enclosed space. Gas — both nitrogen and carbon dioxide — can form when you’re working out or even when you raise your arms quickly. It’s not a serious condition.

Loose ligaments 

If you have loose ligaments (for example, if you can extend your arm out and bend it beyond neutral), you may have a loose or double-jointed shoulder. In this case, the popping may mean that the ligament has slipped out of place. Strengthening exercises are in order so that your shoulder joint doesn’t wear out.

Out of place tendon 

If the popping sound in your shoulder started suddenly, you may have injured a tendon that has slipped out of its groove; it may be moving back and forth out of its normal position. As the popping continues, more damage may be occurring. Dr. Blaha can diagnose and treat your injury. 

Benign tumor

You may have developed a benign tumor called an osteochondroma. It can cause a popping or cracking sound when you raise your arm, but you may have no pain. In most cases, Dr. Blaha simply monitors this benign growth. If it puts pressure on a nerve or blood vessel and causes pain, you may need surgery, but this is rare. 

As we noted above, if the popping sound comes with pain, you should make an appointment with Motion Medical Center right away. 

When popping in the shoulder causes pain

Following are some conditions that cause the popping sound and often bring pain. 


You may have heard of bursitis in the hip, but it can also occur in your shoulder. You have several sacs called bursa, that are filled with fluid and help your shoulder joint to move easily. Sometimes the bursa becomes inflamed. If rest, ice, and anti-inflammatories don’t help, Dr. Blaha can give you a steroid injection, which can calm the inflammation. 

Torn labrum

The labrum is a lining of fibrous cartilage along your shoulder socket that keeps the ball in your shoulder joint in its proper place. A torn labrum can result from an injury or from deterioration of the tissue from the aging process. 

Dr. Blaha usually advises rest for the shoulder followed by physical therapy to strengthen the muscles and tendons surrounding the labrum. Surgery is the option of last resort. 

Hairline fracture

If you’ve been in an accident or had a sports injury or a fall, you could have a hairline fracture in your shoulder. This type of injury can produce pain and a popping sound. 

Call us at Motion Medical Center today or book an appointment online if you hear a popping in your shoulder and for all of your musculoskeletal needs. 

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