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Why You Should Never Ignore That Popping Sound in Your Shoulder

When your shoulder makes a popping sound, with or without pain, it may be time to contact your doctor. There are a variety of reasons your shoulder may be popping, many of them benign. However, it’s worth your time and good health to check it out.   

Board Certified Orthopedic Surgeon Steven E. Nolan, M.D. works extensively with sports injuries and more at his office in Sugar Land, Texas. He treats a range of shoulder problems, from impingement to labral tears.

Shoulder injuries that cause popping and/or pain

Dr. Nolan can help you when you start feeling pain or hearing popping in one or both shoulders due to such issues as:


When tissue rubs together within your shoulder blade, it can irritate your bursa and tendons. If you perform repetitive movements, such as swimming or building houses, you might feel pain or inflammation in your arm or shoulder. Dr. Nolan may treat your shoulder with physical therapy, steroid injections, or surgery.

Labral tears

If grinding or popping is accompanied by pain, it may be caused by a labral tear. This usually occurs following an injury or when the joint in your shoulder shifts entirely (dislocation), or partially (subluxation). Dr. Nolan can stabilize your shoulder joint through arthroscopic surgery.

Rotator cuff tears

When the tendons in your shoulder within the rotator cuff tear from overuse or heavy overhead lifting, you may feel pain or hear a cracking sound. Dr. Nolan recommends treating the pain with medication, physical therapy or an arm sling. If that doesn’t work, he may suggest surgery.

Scapulothoracic bursitis

When the fluid-filled sacs, or bursa, in your shoulder become inflamed, they may cause pain whenever you move your arms. This condition is called snapping scapula syndrome or scapulothoracic bursitis.


Benign bone growths, known as osteochondroma, can appear on your shoulder, rib cage or scapula. They may pop when you raise your arm. However, this noncancerous bone growth rarely causes concern or pain. Consult Dr. Nolan if you feel lingering pain. He may suggest medication or surgery to remove the mass.


When bones in your shoulder or elsewhere rub against each other, it indicates that the protective cartilage is breaking down. You may notice a snapping sound, which could be an early sign of osteoarthritis. Although this condition, which affects millions of people worldwide, can be managed, it cannot be reversed. 

When popping and pain follow an injury

You should always get diagnosed if you feel pain and popping noises in your shoulders, especially if you’ve recently injured yourself. Dr. Nolan can review your condition and decide on appropriate treatment. If you ignore your pain for too long, or your shoulder doesn’t heal properly, you may end up with “frozen shoulder,” restricting your range of motion.

Patient heal thyself

Dr. Nolan proposes a few guidelines to keep your shoulders healthy.

When sitting at a computer

While swimming or lifting weights

Lifting weights or swimming is great for your physique, but it can be extremely taxing on your body. Practice common sense strategies to preserve your shoulders, muscles and joints.

To sleep, perchance to dream without pain

How you sleep can be nearly as important as how much. Sleep on your back, rather than your side, to avoid causing additional harm to your shoulders. One study showed 67% of side sleepers developed shoulder pain on that particular side. 

If you’re concerned about popping sounds, lingering shoulder pain, or other injury, call us or book an appointment online with Dr. Nolan today.  

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