Why Does My Shoulder Pop, Snap, Crack? Harmful? What to Do

This article is a transcribed edited summary of a video Bob and Brad recorded in September of 2015. For the original video go to https://youtu.be/CnkcOAZ8OSA

Bob: Brad, this is a question we get quite often, why does my shoulder pop, snap, crack. You know, snap, crackle, pop. Why is it making noise and is it something I should worry about.


Brad: Exactly.


Bob: We are going to talk about one of the things that can cause it to make these noises which there’s quite a few of them. After that, we will talk about when you should probably see the doctor and then finally, we’re going to finish up with some exercises that you can do to maybe help stop that.


Brad: Old bonehead’s going to help, our skeleton.


Bob: We used to call him Napoleon Bonaparte but now he’s calling him Bonehead for some reason. Anyways, the noise in your shoulder is very common. One of the no injury causes is what we call cavitation. So, you have a shoulder here, I’m going to use this one that’s still attached. So, in the shoulder you have a ball and a socket, and this is all covered in a material kind of a tough fibrous material. Within that material there’s actually gases that can form.

Brad: Nitrogen?


Bob: Nitrogen and carbon dioxide and they can form bubbles and they can pop. It’s like when you crack your knuckles. You’re popping these bad little gas bubbles. That’s number one. Number two is a snapping tendons. Brad’s going to show you this. Especially the bicep right here, the muscle itself, narrows up into a tendon. That tendon is in a groove. It can actually snap out of that groove at times. There’s a test we actually do for that.


Brad: We are going to pull this off of here. Here’s the groove that Bob was talking about. This is our mock tendon which you hold it there and that’s that groove that tendon fits in. It’s a really nice model. Maybe people have actually felt this one. You can see the tendon pops back and then you move your arm again and you can feel it pop back.

Bob: Yeah, it snaps back and forth.


Brad: Snap, snap. Snap, snap. I like this, Bob.


Bob: There’s other tendons that can do that but that’s just one example. So, that’s again a non-injury type thing that could happen. Number three is if you have what we call a loose shoulder, like a double-jointed shoulder. Your born with ligaments that are very loose. If you’re one of those people that can take their thumb and put it on their forearm, that probably means your loose ligamented. What’s another one, Brad?


Brad: If your elbow bends farther than neutral. Hypermobility.


Bob: If your humerus can really slosh around a lot, and it’s not held in there tightly, that’s going to give you a snapping and cracking and popping. That’s going to, unfortunately, wear the shoulder out. So that’s at the end of the video, we are going to show you strengthening exercises you can do for this. Those are the ones that are non-injury. Now, there’s things that we call repetitive stress. If you’re using the shoulder a lot or over time, you can start to wear down the tendons of the rotator cuff.


Brad: People that work overhead a lot, that’s a primary reason.


Bob: Or even if your bones are not shaped right, they can start wearing down the tendons. That can cause some roughness of the tendons. Again, the muscles narrow up to be tendons and that can give you noise. Especially when you’re up overhead, that can be that grinding, stuff like that. The other repetitive stress injury is just plain old arthritis. Now we’ve got a little bit of covering over the surface of the bone called hyaline cartilage. After a while that starts to wear away and instead of this being nice and smooth, it’s all roughened up.


Brad: Like sandpaper. You can just imagine that grinding.


Bob: The last one is when you actually have an injury itself. That could be a rotator cuff or a torn labrum. Within the socket, there’s a little round ring of tissue. It helps hold the ball in place. It takes pretty good injury to do it, but you can tear that labrum. Pieces of it can be floating around and it’s not going to be smooth. That one could require surgical repair. It depends on the person. You can also dislocate the shoulder and tear the labrum.

Brad: My mother fell down and tore hers, her humerus was way down like this in the x-ray. That was in the ER a half hour after she fell so they had to put it back in place.

Bob: Those are the reasons you might be getting to pop and snapping. So, when do you worry about it, Brad?


Brad: That’s a good question.


Bob: Alright, number one. If there’s pain with it. If there’s no pain, you’re snapping, cracking, popping, it’s fine, let it go. There’s no injury, it’s just part of life, you know. We can show you some things at the end that might help. If you’ve had a recent injury and now, you’re hearing popping and snapping, you may want to see the doctor.


Brad: Right. Especially if you’ve had a shoulder surgery and it kind of came up. Especially if it’s painful. But, if it’s not, you might be fine.


Bob: The third thing I would say, is if your shoulder always felt stable, and now it doesn’t and you’re hearing popping and snapping and now it feels loose and like it’s sliding all around, I’d probably see the doctor there too. So, those are just three guidelines. So, things to try. I’ll put up a link, some good TheraBand, strengthening exercises. The more you strengthen the shoulder, the more it’s going to help set in place and keep it stable.


Brad: Specific exercises for the rotator cuff muscles.


Bob: The four muscles that go around the shoulder. The last one, what I want you to do is find a surface like a countertop. I’m going to use the back of this chair. This thing works out really well to set the bone back in place where it is supposed to be. You’re going to put your hand flat on the surface, the table or countertop and you’re going to push it down the whole time and then walk away. Still push down and walk back into it. Do it five times.

Brad: It should be relatively pain-free.


Bob: Yeah, that’s setting the bone down in the socket, in a better position. You know what I would do, is I would try this and see if there’s less snapping and cracking after. Alright, thanks!


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