Common Causes of Shoulder Pain and Popping

Carolina Regional Orthopaedics shoulder replacement

Hearing a cracking or popping sound on your shoulder when you move your arm can be expected. This condition, called crepitus, is not necessarily a sign of an underlying problem or injury. However, if you experience shoulder pain and popping, grinding, clicking, or other unusual sounds from the joint, see a doctor immediately.

Carolina Regional Orthopedics has a team of board-certified orthopedic surgeons experienced in diagnosing conditions that might lead to shoulder pain and popping. The surgeons use state-of-the-art technology and methods to determine the cause of your discomfort and develop a custom treatment plan including shoulder replacement to help you emerge healthier and more robust. But what could be causing your shoulder to pop or click?

Understanding the Shoulder Joint

The shoulder joint is a ball and socket joint. The ball is the end of the upper arm bone connecting to the socket. The bone rests in a cup-shaped structure made from cartilage called a labrum. Everything is then held in place by four muscles forming the rotator cuff. The shoulder joint is created in a way that allows maximum mobility. However, it is also very susceptible to injury.

The Most Common Causes of Shoulder Pain and Popping


Sometimes, lifting your arms during any activity, especially if you do it quickly, might cause air bubbles in the joints to pop. This phenomenon is called cavitation. It is similar to what happens when you crack your knuckles. Doctors have no idea why this happens, but as long as there is no pain, you don’t have to worry about this noise.


A benign bone growth on the shoulder, scapula, or rib cage might cause some popping. However, clicking or popping noises are only symptoms. It becomes a cause for concern if you have pain. Though it is rare, the bone growth might cause other problems and may require it to be surgically removed.

Scapulothoracic Bursitis

The joint is protected by fluid-filled sacs called bursa. These sacs help protect the joint and keep it moving smoothly. If the bursae become irritated or inflamed, one might experience a stabbing sensation with a popping noise. This usually happens from overuse or an injury.

Treatment of bursitis is conservative. Immobilization and icing help reduce swelling. Pain relievers are effective in most cases in reducing pain and inflammation. A cortisone injection might benefit some people. If the bursitis happens due to trauma, such as a hard fall, the bursa might need to be aspirated to remove the fluid.

Bone Fractures

In case of a bone fracture injury that doesn’t heal properly, you may hear popping or grinding noises when you raise the arm. Uneven healing can create ridges even if you have a hairline fracture. The muscles may rub against the ridges causing a grinding sound. Shoulder popping may continue long after a fracture, but seeking medical care immediately after an injury or accident is best. Even if you don’t think anything is broken, seek medical care to support proper healing.

Labral Tears

You may have a torn labrum if you hear a popping noise when you use your arm and have consistent pain and discomfort. A hard fall, sudden hard pull, or a direct blow on the joint usually cause this injury. A torn labrum can cause a decreased range of motion, instability, or shoulder dislocation in case of extreme damage. Treatment includes rest, physical therapy, and anti-inflammatory medication. If these are ineffective, surgery to repair the labrum is necessary. The surgeon might only need to remove the torn tissue, but it all depends on the extent of the damage. They may also need to reattach the tendons to the labrum using pins or screws.


Grinding, grating, and cracking noises when you move the shoulder can also indicate osteoarthritis. Arthritis causes the cartilage cushioning the joint to deteriorate. The noises are an indication that the bones are rubbing against each other. Arthritis eventually causes pain and stiffness. Treatment involves physical therapy, anti-inflammatory medication, and other pain relief methods. If the joint significantly degenerates, a surgeon might advise shoulder replacement surgery.

Carolina Regional Orthopedics, P.A.

If shoulder pain becomes bothersome or is accompanied by pain, make an appointment with a doctor at Carolina Regional Orthopaedics, P.A. After a thorough examination, a treatment plan will be developed to address the pain and increase mobility including shoulder replacement. Contact our office at 252-443-0400 and schedule an appointment today.