Man holding shoulder

My Shoulder is Clicking, What is Causing This?

A clicking or cracking sound when you move your shoulder or feeling a popping or grinding sensation in the joint at the top of your arm (crepitus) can have a number different causes. Some of these may be nothing to worry about but others might be a sign of some kind of underlying health condition that requires treatment.

Anatomy of the shoulder joint

Your shoulder is the most flexible joint in your body, allowing you to move your arms in many different directions. However, this leaves the shoulder particularly vulnerable to injury. It is a ball and socket joint, with the top of your arm bone (humerus) fitting inside the labrum, which is a soft cup of cartilage around the socket (glenoid). The bones are held in place by four muscles and tendons that surround the joint, called the rotator cuff.

Underlying conditions that can cause clicking/popping

The following conditions can all cause clicking sounds or popping sensations in your shoulder:

  • Labral tears: Your labrum can become torn as the result of an injury or through overuse or ageing. A torn labrum can produce a clicking, grinding or popping sound when you use your shoulder, either due to the torn labrum being caught inside the joint or the if the joint is partially dislocating. It may or may not be painful.
  • Osteoarthritis: This is a condition that causes the slippery cartilage inside your joints to break down. Cartilage lubricates your shoulder joint and stops the bones from rubbing together. If you are experiencing a clicking sound or grating sensation it can be an early symptom of osteoarthritis, indicating that your bones may be starting to make contact with each other rather than gliding smoothly within the joint.
  • Shoulder impingement: The tendons of the rotator cuff passed through an arch made of bone and ligament. Is the arch becomes thickened, or the shoulder is not sitting centred on the socket during motion, then the two will rub on each other. This often produces a grating sound with rotation of the shoulder and is very common. If it becomes painful then it is termed ‘impingement syndrome’.
  • Bursitis: The bursae are fluid-filled sacs that protect the joints. If they become inflamed, they can cause pain and clicking in the shoulder when you move your arms.  If this occurs around the shoulder blade it is called snapping scapula syndrome.
  • Osteochondroma: This is a rare benign growth from one of the shoulder bones that can cause it to crack when you lift your arms.
  • Cavitation: The most common cause and completely harmless! Just like when you crack your knuckles, raising your shoulders quickly can release gas from within the joints causing them to crack or click, which is called cavitation.

Doctor patient consultationWhen to see an orthopaedic specialist

Sometimes the tendons and joints may click or crack when they are functioning normally and this is not something to worry about. However, if the clicking happens every time you raise your arms or if it is accompanied by pain it is important to get a diagnosis.

If you have recently sustained an injury to your shoulder, you may have a fracture, tear or muscle strain that needs attention.

Your shoulder joint is a complex structure of bones, muscles, tendons and ligaments. If you injure any part of it and it fails to heal correctly, in time you may develop a frozen shoulder which is painful and restricts your joint from moving properly.

Treatment for shoulder clicking

The treatment will depend on what is causing your shoulder to click. The most common treatments for shoulder pain and clicking are physiotherapy and corticosteroid injections. Some other conditions might require consideration fo surgery. For example, a shoulder fracture can sometimes require surgery so that bones dont’ heal in an a way that will catch on movement.

Deep grinding in the shoulder may indicate osteoarthritis than may eventually require a shoulder replacement.

If you are experiencing a painful or troublesome clicking, cracking or popping sensation in your shoulder, contact us to arrange a diagnosis and to discuss the best course of treatment.

If you are experiencing a clicking, cracking or popping sensation in your shoulder, contact us to arrange a diagnosis and to discuss the best course of treatment.

Orthopaedic Consultant & Surgeon | London

Thames Shoulder & Elbow are able to provide advice and support to anyone experiencing symptoms affecting the upper limbs (shoulder, upper arm, elbow, forearm and wrist).

Telephone: 020 376 15987


Our Locations

Hospital of St John and St Elizabeth, St John’s Wood – Directions
BMI The Syon Clinic, Brentford – Directions
HCA Chiswick Health Centre, Chiswick – Directions
West Middlesex University Hospital, Chelsea and Westminster Foundation Trust, Isleworth – Directions