What That Popping Sound in Your Shoulder May Mean

What That Popping Sound in Your Shoulder May Mean

Have you noticed a crackling sensation when you use your shoulder? Do you hear an audible pop when you lift your arm? These symptoms can be worrisome, and it’s time to find out what could be causing them.

Crepitus is the medical term for that popping or crackling sensation. It happens when the bones and cartilage in a joint rub together. It’s common in shoulders, since they’re two of the most mobile joints in your body.

While crepitus doesn’t always mean something serious, it often comes with pain — and it shouldn’t be ignored. Aron Rovner, MD, and our team at New York Spine and Sports Surgery specialize in diagnosing and treating shoulder problems. Here’s the rundown on what that popping sound in your shoulder might mean.

Possible causes of shoulder popping

To a certain extent, crepitus is normal for joints. If you’ve ever cracked your knuckles, that popping sound comes from gas bubbles bursting in the synovial fluid of your finger joints. Synovial fluid keeps your joints lubricated, and there’s usually no harm in this type of popping sound.

However, popping sounds and cracking sensations that come along with pain could be a sign of shoulder injury or degeneration. A few of the most common causes are bursitis, labral tears, and arthritis.


Your shoulder joints contain small sacs called bursae that cushion your bones as you move. Bursitis is a condition that develops when bursae get irritated and swell up, often due to overuse or acute injury.

Bursitis is often painful. Symptoms can include stabbing pain in your shoulder, a warm sensation in the joint, and an audible popping sound when you move your arm.

Labral tear

Thick bands of cartilage connect your arm to your shoulder to hold your joint in place. This cartilage is called the labrum, and labral tears can occur with overuse or injury.

Labral tears are very painful and difficult to ignore. If you tear your labrum, you may experience constant pain, along with popping noises and grinding sensations when you try to use your arm.


Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis. It’s nicknamed wear-and-tear arthritis because the cartilage in your joints wears down with years of use.

Your bones begin grinding against each other as the cartilage deteriorates. Along with pain and stiffness, you may notice clicking, popping, or grinding in the affected joint.

What to do about popping in shoulders

If you notice pain, discomfort, or popping sensations in your shoulder, schedule a medical evaluation with us to determine the cause. Dr. Rovner and our team specialize in comprehensive sports medicine care, and we can help you find a treatment plan that’s right for you.

We examine your shoulder and take X-rays or other imaging tests to reach a diagnosis. Not every case of crepitus requires treatment, but if you have recurring shoulder pain or a shoulder injury, treatment can improve your symptoms.

Depending on your condition, we offer a range of treatments that include:

Together, we find ways to relieve bothersome shoulder symptoms and help you move through life with less pain. Contact our team online for an appointment or call one of our offices in Fair Lawn, New Jersey, or Garden City, New York.

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