Read below about shoulder popping, including causes, treatment options and remedies. Or get a personalized analysis of your shoulder popping from our A.I. health assistant. At Buoy, we build tools that help you know what’s wrong right now and how to get the right care.

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Shoulder Popping Symptoms

People who participate in sports activities such as tennis or heavy weightlifting may experience sensations of popping, catching or locking of the shoulder joint after prolonged activity.

However, many times, this shoulder popping sensation occurs without involvement of sports activity and may include other symptoms such as:

  • Pain
  • Swelling
  • Visibly deformed or out-of-place shoulder
  • Limited range of motion
  • Decreased strength
  • Feeling of instability in the shoulder

The shoulder is a very mobile joint and vulnerable to displacement. The shoulder joint consists of the shoulder blade (scapula), the collarbone (clavicle) and the bone of the upper arm (humerus). The head of the humerus sits in a socket of the scapula called the glenoid. There is a ring of tissue that surrounds the glenoid socket (labrum) that keeps all of these pieces in place.

See this image for a visual representation.

When there is displacement of this system of bones, sockets and tissue, the shoulder will feel as if it has popped out of place. In whatever situation, it is important to follow-up on your shoulder popping symptoms in order to receive appropriate care and relief.

Shoulder Popping Causes Overview

Causes of shoulder popping are relatively limited and can be grouped into the following categories.

Trauma:

  • Falling on an outstretched arm
  • A direct blow to the shoulder
  • A sudden, forceful pull. For example, when trying to lift a heavy object from the ground.

Overuse:

  • Activities that cause repetitive shoulder motions such as tennis or weightlifting can cause overuse injury to the shoulder joint.
  • Repetitive overhead motions you may perform at work can also cause such overuse shoulder injuries.

Aging:

  • Normal wear and tear over a long period of time can weaken the shoulder joint. As a result, patients over the age of 40 are more susceptible to such symptoms.

5 Potential Shoulder Popping Causes

Disclaimer: The article does not replace an evaluation by a physician. Information on this page is provided as an information resource only, and is not to be used or relied on for any diagnostic or treatment purposes.

  1. 1.Broken Collarbone

    The clavicle is the collar bone. Clavicle fractures are often caused by a direct blow to the shoulder, for example during a fall onto the shoulder, a car collision, or a fall onto an outstretched arm. This fracture is an extremely common bone fracture in people of all ages.

    May take several months to heal.

    Rarity:
    Uncommon
    Top Symptoms:
    constant shoulder pain, pain in one shoulder, arm weakness, shoulder pain from an injury, collarbone pain
    Symptoms that always occur with broken collarbone:
    collarbone pain, shoulder pain that gets worse with movement, difficulty moving the shoulder, collarbone bulge, constant shoulder pain
    Urgency:
    Hospital emergency room
  2. 2.Biceps Tendon Rupture

    The biceps is the muscle in the front of the upper arm. Its main action is to flex the arm. The biceps muscle collects in a tendon that inserts into the radius (one of the bones of the forearm). Sometimes, if lifting something heavy or rapidly putting weight on the arm, the biceps tendon may pull away from the bone. Biceps tendon ruptures are classified as either partial or complete ruptures, depending on if the tendon pulled away only somewhat, or completely.

    Full recovery within weeks to months after surgery, with no lasting deficits.

    Rarity:
    Uncommon
    Top Symptoms:
    pain in one shoulder, pain in the front of the shoulder, spontaneous shoulder pain, dull, achy shoulder pain, shoulder pain that gets worse at night
    Symptoms that always occur with biceps tendon rupture:
    pain in the front of the shoulder, pain in one shoulder
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor

    Shoulder Popping Checker

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  3. 3.Dislocated Shoulder

    The shoulder is a ball and socket joint. This means the round top of the arm bone fits into the groove in the shoulder blade. A dislocated shoulder is when the entire ball is out of the socket.

    3-6 weeks with treatment

    Rarity:
    Rare
    Top Symptoms:
    constant shoulder pain, pain in one shoulder, shoulder dislocation, shoulder injury, shoulder popping
    Symptoms that always occur with dislocated shoulder:
    pain in one shoulder, shoulder dislocation, constant shoulder pain
    Symptoms that never occur with dislocated shoulder:
    mild shoulder pain
    Urgency:
    Hospital emergency room
  4. 4.Acromioclavicular (Ac) Shoulder Joint Injury

    The shoulder is made up of three bones - the shoulder blade (scapula), collar bone (clavicle), and arm bone (humerus). The acromioclavicular (AC) joint is a joint that is in the front of the shoulder, where the collar bone and shoulder blade meet. This joint is stabilized by ligaments, which can tear if the two bones are separated from one another. This is most commonly caused by falling on the shoulder.

    Pain goes away in 3 weeks in most cases (6-12 weeks for more severe injuries)

    Rarity:
    Rare
    Top Symptoms:
    constant shoulder pain, pain in one shoulder, shoulder pain from an injury, shoulder pain near the end of the collarbone, difficulty moving the shoulder
    Symptoms that always occur with acromioclavicular (ac) shoulder joint injury:
    shoulder pain near the end of the collarbone, constant shoulder pain
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  5. 5.Dislocated Shoulder With Nerve or Artery Damage

    The shoulder is a ball and socket joint. This means the round top of the arm bone fits into the groove in the shoulder blade. A dislocated shoulder is when the entire ball is out of the socket. If the dislocation affects blood supply or a nerve, medical attention is extremely important.

    3-6 weeks with treatment

    Rarity:
    Rare
    Top Symptoms:
    pain in one shoulder, arm weakness, shoulder pain from an injury, severe shoulder pain, arm numbness
    Symptoms that always occur with dislocated shoulder with nerve or artery damage:
    pain in one shoulder, shoulder dislocation
    Urgency:
    Hospital emergency room

Shoulder Popping Treatments and Relief

See your doctor promptly if you experience such shoulder popping symptoms as described above.

Depending on your diagnosis, your doctor may suggest the following:

  • Immobilization (Sling): Your doctor may use a sling to keep your shoulder from moving and your tissues time to heal.
  • Rehabilitation: Your doctor may recommend stretching exercises or a physical therapy/rehabilitation program to help you restore range of motion, strength and stability to your shoulder.
  • Medication: Your doctor may prescribe medication or a muscle relaxant to help with swelling or pain and keep you comfortable while your shoulder heals.
  • Surgery: If nonsurgical methods like those above are ineffective, your doctor may recommend surgery.

Questions Your Doctor May Ask About Shoulder Popping

  • Q.Which of the following describes your physical fitness:
  • Q.How would you explain the cause of your shoulder pain?
  • Q.Where exactly is your shoulder pain?
  • Q.Did you just suffer from a high impact injury (e.g., a fall, collision, accident or sports trauma)?

If you've answered yes to one or more of these questions, try our shoulder popping symptom checker to find out more.

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Shoulder Popping Symptom Checker Statistics

  • People who have experienced shoulder popping have also experienced:

    • 30% Pain in One Shoulder
    • 19% Grinding Sensation in Shoulder
    • 8% Shoulder Pain
  • People who have experienced shoulder popping were most often matched with:

    • 20% Biceps Tendon Rupture
    • 3% Dislocated Shoulder
  • Source: Aggregated and anonymized results from visits to the Buoy AI health assistant (check it out by clicking on “Take Quiz”).

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