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Why You Shouldn't Ignore that Popping Sound in Your Shoulder

Our bodies make all kinds of cracking and popping sounds. Some are benign, and some are not. Sometimes we don’t even know we have a problem until we suddenly have pain or trouble moving. This is especially true with our shoulder joints. So, how do we know when the sounds we hear are serious?

Dr. James M. Lee of Orange Orthopaedic, with locations in both West Orange and Bayonne, New Jersey, is an expert in all kinds of joint problems, including the complex shoulder joint. If you’re hearing popping noises in your shoulders, stop in and see us to make sure everything’s okay.

Understanding your shoulder joint

Your shoulder is actually the largest and most complex joint in the body. It connects your arms to your trunk with a ball-and-socket configuration formed by the humerus (upper arm bone) connecting to the scapula (shoulder blade). These work together to allow for smooth movement. 

The shoulder itself is made up of two joints: the glenohumeral joint and the acromioclavicular joint. The glenohumeral joint is basically where the ball and the socket of your shoulder meet. The acromioclavicular joint is where your shoulder blade connects to your collarbone. There are muscles attached to these joints by tendons. The shoulder joint also has ligaments that help attach the soft tissue to bone. 

Unfortunately, with all these moving parts, shoulder injuries are common and can happen to anyone. That’s why you should always pay attention to new or weird sounds your shoulder makes.

Reasons for a popping sound

Simply moving your shoulder can cause a popping noise. But is it a sign of something worse? The actual sound or feeling of a popping or cracking joint is called crepitus. When there’s no pain accompanying the sound, you typically don’t need to worry. However, if the popping is accompanied by pain or warmth, it could be something serious.

Here are some of the more serious shoulder conditions:


Your shoulder joint includes spongy cartilage to prevent your bones from rubbing together, sort of like a safety cushion. As we age, that helpful cartilage begins to break down, which can make our bones rub together painfully and can result in a popping sound. In this case, that sound could be a sign of arthritis.

Labral tears

The labrum is a piece of the spongy cartilage that cups the ball-shaped joint in your shoulder, where your upper arm bone connects to the shoulder. Shoulder muscles help keep the labrum in place. However, it can tear due to injury or repetitive motion. When you experience a labral tear, you’ll feel quite a bit of discomfort along with the popping. 


Specifically, a scapulothoracic bursitis injury causes a pop when you move your arm or shoulder in any direction. The bursa is a sac filled with fluid that protects joints and allows them to move easily. It’s the helpful lubrication we need to move our arms at the shoulder. If the bursa becomes inflamed, you’ll likely experience some discomfort, and you’ll want to visit Dr. Lee right away for treatment.


A shoulder fracture can cause both pain and a popping noise. Even if you have an old shoulder injury, you may still hear a popping noise. After a shoulder fracture, bones can heal in a way that causes permanent ridges in the bone, which will rub together and make an audible noise.

If you’re experiencing pain or you want to know why exactly your shoulder joint is making noises, call our offices today or make an appointment online. We can diagnose and treat your condition, alleviating your worries and getting you back to your daily routine.

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