On a daily basis we expect and demand our shoulders to perform. Whether vacuuming or playing sports, our shoulders are involved in nearly every movement.

For this very reason, our shoulders are prone to strain, stress, and injury. All can lead to pain, stiffness, and soreness.

Some also experience popping sounds with associated pain, which is one of the most common and difficult issues to diagnose. This will typically leave one to think, “I heard a pop in my shoulder and now it hurts, what should I do next?”.

There are several reasons why shoulder popping occurs, including the shoulder’s agility and intricate design. Before covering some of those reasons, let’s quickly review the shoulder’s anatomy.

Shoulder Overview

The shoulder consists of muscles, tendons, ligaments, and bones, forming the shoulder girdle. Shoulder anatomy:

  • 3 bones: scapula, humerus, and clavicle.
  • 3 joints: glenohumeral joint (the “ball and socket” joint), sternoclavicular joint, and acromioclavicular joint.
  • Ligaments: flexible bands of fibrous tissue that connect bones and cartilage, and bind joints.
  • Tendons: elastic connective tissue connecting muscles to bones.
  • Muscles: responsible for supporting and assisting the shoulder with specific movements.
  • Bursa: a protective sac (lubricating fluid inside) found between two moving surfaces.
  • Rotator cuff: comprised of muscles and tendons in the shoulder, which support the glenohumeral joint.

The shoulder girdle components rely on one another to ensure the stability of the shoulder, and give strength and ROM to the arm. If any part of the girdle is disrupted or injured, any number of symptoms can arise – causing popping in the shoulder.

“I Heard A Pop In My Shoulder And Now It Hurts”

Wear and tear, and aging creates worn and roughened joints over time – surfaces begin to rub against each other, causing popping noises. This is perfectly normal when absent of pain.

If pain is present, it could be one of three common issues.

3 Common Issues Associated With Shoulder Popping

Shoulder dislocation: Due to repetitive use, stress, or a previous injury, the humerus slides out of the glenoid (socket), altering the normal anatomical position of the shoulder. This causes intense pain, swelling, muscle spasms, and/or weakness.

Rotator cuff tears: The rotator cuff, consisting of muscles and tendons, covers the humeral head and attaches it to the shoulder blade, which supports movement of the arm. Due to trauma or degeneration, tendons may become torn or frayed. Aside from popping, pain at rest or with specific movements, and weakness may ensue.

Labral tears: Stabilizing the humeral head in the glenoid (socket), the labrum is a soft fibrous tissue rim surrounding the glenoid, deepening the socket for a better fit. Injuries to the tissue rim caused by repetitive stress or acute trauma can cause tears, resulting in decreased ROM, dislocations, and pain.

Shoulder Popping Treatments

Shoulder injuries vary, calling for individual assessments and diagnosis with an accompanying care plan. If you ever find yourself thinking – “I heard a pop in my shoulder and now it hurts” – your first line of defense is to rest the shoulder and discontinue the activities that cause pain. Then seek out a sports medicine specialist for next steps.