A clicking shoulder can be minor or a sign of a serious condition.
Causes of a Clicking Shoulder
A shoulder may click, snap, or pop quite commonly due to repetitive stress, everyday use, sports, or trauma. Any injury to the tendons, cartilage, bone, or ligaments can cause this noise. The shoulder also has two linings: the bursa and the synovium. Natural joint changes can cause the clicking, because aging leads the surfaces to become more rough. If the popping and snapping are painless, there is usually little concern; however, if they follow an injury, there may be a more serious condition. One of these conditions is shoulder instability, where the shoulder is “sliding in and out of place”. If the rotator cuff or labrum is torn, that can lead to popping. Loose cartilage can also make noise. If the back part of the shoulder snaps, it might indicate a scapula or shoulder blade problem. SLAP lesions and labral tears are painful. The labrum is an attachment point for ligaments that helps to keep the shoulder in position. Repetitive stress or a trauma could tear the labrum, separating it from the bone. Rotator cuff tears and shoulder dislocations are other painful conditions. Arthritis is another cause of noise in the shoulder, due to the loss of cartilage cushioning.1 Shoulder problems are relatively common; in fact, “nearly 1.2 million people in the United States visited an emergency room in 2010” for this issue. Aside from the conditions mentioned, tendinitis and bursitis could be involved in shoulder inflammation and pain. Frozen shoulder is another disorder, also called adhesive capsulitis, where shoulder movement is restricted, due to pain.2 There are several types of arthritis-related issues that can affect the shoulder, such as osteoarthritis (“wear and tear”), rheumatoid arthritis (“an autoimmune disease”), posttraumatic arthritis (a type of osteoarthritis), rotator cuff tear arthropathy, and avascular necrosis (blood supply disruption that leads to arthritis).3
Some standard treatments for many shoulder conditions, including a rotator cuff tear, include pain medications, anti-inflammatory pills, ice, physiotherapy, steroid injections, or even surgery.4 It is important to consider the age of the patient, if there is pain or not, as well as any trauma that led to the popping, when deciding on treatment options for a clicking shoulder. Chiropractors can help patients treat an unstable shoulder with “a progressive program of rotator cuff strengthening”.5 Because shoulder problems are often due to overuse or repetitive stress, it is important to see what actions are contributing to the condition. If the situation is severe, patients will have “recurrent episodes of subluxation or dislocation of the shoulder” and possibly “a ‘dead arm’ sensation”. With proper rehabilitation and physiotherapy, “many patients with shoulder instability heal well”. It may take weeks or perhaps months for recovery. If surgery becomes necessary, there will be many months of rehabilitation. Some other treatment options might include shoulder taping, soft tissue massage, ice or heat, ultrasound, advice on activity modification, “biomechanical correction” (to teach proper sports techniques, for example), and prescribed exercises.6
Find out more about chiropractic for rotator cuff injuries.