Are Clicking Noises In Your Shoulder Bad?

Does your shoulder pop or click with movement?

These sounds can be concerning and common.  We receive many questions from people worried about their creaky shoulders:

  • What’s causing the noise?
  • Can I use my shoulder when it’s clicking?
  • Is it causing damage?
  • How do I make these sounds stop?

Is this bad?

Rather than bad, think of these noises as a check engine light, there may something that needs some work.

In general though, these shoulder noises are OK! Shoulder clicking without pain may occur with natural changes in the shoulder.  And you can help make them stop, which we will cover shortly.

Also, there is a BIG difference between a click versus a catch or clunk. A catch or clunk (you will know if you have this), especially with pain, is a reason to seek care from a medical professional.

What’s the cause?

Each muscle attachment, called a tendon, has a groove or area to track through as the arm moves into various positions. The noise that you hear is the glide of these tendon attachments over grooves in your shoulder.  A slight deviation in your position may create a clicking noise as your shoulder adjusts.

Strength training is a common cause of these first time shoulder clicks.

As your muscles grow stronger it can change how the tendons run through their grooves.  Or, following a hard workout, there may be an increase in muscle stiffness.  This can cause the shoulder to sit differently as well.

Shoulder clicking can also be a result of daily activities. For example, sitting in one position for extended period of time, like a 4 hour flight, will affect how your muscles behave. Some muscles will become short and tight, while others become lengthened. Again, these changes alter shoulder movement.

Even a millimeter difference can impact where the muscles sit and how they move in the shoulder.  The popping noise is your shoulder’s response to this change.

But recurring or consistent popping can be a sign of impaired shoulder stability…which is a bad thing!  Because poor shoulder stability is an underlying factor for most shoulder pain.

If you notice lots of clicking and popping from your shoulders, consider that there may be some underlying stability issues causing these changing positions.  Think of it as a warning sign to improve your shoulder stability before pain or injury begins.

How to Fix Your Creaky Shoulder

Now the big question– how do you stop the clicking sound?

To lessen or stop the clicking you will need to restore the balance and stability of your shoulder.  Many times this is done with a simply set of muscle activation.

We can test this out with Crossover Symmetry.

First, identify where the clicking is happening, moving through the following slowly:

  1. Bring your arms up in front of your body with your thumbs pointing up, reach up as high as you can then back down.
  2. Raise your arms out to the side like doing a snow angel.

In both movements pay attention to when and where your shoulder clicks.  

Next, run through a few of the Crossover Symmetry Activation exercises.

8 Reps Rows

8 Reps Reverse Fly

8 Reps Pull Down

Use your Crossover Cords if you have them, it will only improve the results!  But if you don’t, not to worry, just go through the movements and contract the muscles like you would if you had resistance.

Now do the assessment again, raising your hands over the head, and then raising them out to the side.

You may find the clicking is less or is happening in a different spot.  This is awesome! You have activated dynamic stabilizers of the shoulder, improved the firing patterns, and allowed the shoulder to do what it does best— be stable and dynamic.

It may take a few sessions for lasting results, but as you build balance and stability of your shoulder complex, you will likely find that clicking diminishes or evens stops.

Remember, the occasional shoulder pop is no reason to sweat!  But at the same time, it’s important stay in tune with your body, and be aware of issues that may need work.

Author Bio

Kristen Sanchez is a graduate of the University of Colorado where she earned a Doctorate in Physical Therapy. She is a former World Champion in acrobatic gymnastics and currently trains in Crossfit since retiring from gymnastics. Kristen specializes in blending her two passions of strength and aesthetic athletes to return athletes of all disciplines to the sports they love with power, coordination and necessary mobility.