Why Is My Shoulder “Crunching” When Rotating?

Is your shoulder often popping, snapping, clicking etc. when you rotate it or move it around?

These strange and perhaps seemingly disconcerting sounds are much more common than you might think, and they are not necessarily a reason to be alarmed.

So, if you wondering why your shoulders sound like Rice Krispies, then you are surely not alone. I have myself wondered about this, I have had friends and family mention it, and I have read people asking about it online.

Some physiotherapist and orthopedic doctors even say that the question: “Why does my shoulder pop everytime I rotate it?” is one of the most common they get.

why do you hear a strange popping sound from the shoulder?

The good news is that in most cases, though understandably worrying, it is completely harmless that your shoulders sound like Rice Krispies.

The truth is there are a variety of reasons for these sounds. Most often, shoulder popping and clicking are due to everyday use and the normal changes that occur to the joints with aging.

Nonetheless, it is important to investigate and make sure that popping is not a warning sign of arthritis or other damage.

Shoulders are prone to injury and if you experience pain or discomfort along with the popping sensation, this could indicate a more serious condition such as inflammation or injury.

The most common shoulder injury is one to the rotator cuff and you can read more about how to injury-proof your rotator cuff here.

Outlined below are the most common causes of shoulder popping to help you better determine how to treat your symptoms. You will learn if and when it is a cause for concern.

Understanding The Anatomy Of The Shoulder

The shoulder is essentially a ball-and-socket joint, but it is made up of several moving parts and different tissues making it much more complicated than just that.

Actually, it is the anatomy of the shoulder itself that is likely to contribute to sensations like shoulder popping.

At the top of the long bone of the upper arm (humerus), is a round head that fits into a shallow depression of the shoulder blade (scapula), called the glenoid.

Several moving parts are attached around this point litteraly pulling in various directions which is what stabilizes the shoulder and gives you an incredible precision with controlling it.

It is also at this spot where the shoulder popping is likely to originate. If you have had poor posture for a long time or you had an injury, things can become tighter or looser undermining the stability of the shoulder joint.

If one tendon or ligament become loosened, the position of the shoulder itself can shift too far backward or forward during movement. This is often referred to as shoulder instability and is likely to result in shoulder popping.

Instability occurs for numerous reasons. Primarily these are trauma resulting in shoulder dislocation, the degeneration of the joint with aging as well as routine wear and tear.

I think it is important to mention that if you go about every day with poor posture like rounded shoulders and forward head posture then you have an increased risk for injury and put more wear and tear on the joints.

Not to mention that poor posture itself might be a contributing factor, at least indirectly, to your shoulder popping.

If you want to geek out on the shoulder joint, then I suggest you check out this link.

Painless Crunching/Popping

Most often, popping in the shoulders is due to everyday use and the natural changes to the joints that happen with aging.

As we grow older, the surfaces of our joints get rougher. Consequently, when they rub against each other it creates a snap, click, or pop within the shoulder.

This means that in the majority of cases, painless popping or clicking of the shoulder is not a cause for concern. For many people, the sensation of clicking, popping and snapping may resolve by itself or become something they adjust to over time.

In fact, painless popping or clicking does not usually require any elaborate treatment.

However, if there is a sudden onset of popping and snapping after an injury and if you are experiencing pain it is recommended that you see an orthopedic specialist or physiotherapist for an examination.

woman licking her shoulder because it is popping

Not sure if licking your shoulder helps reduce the popping sounds, but you can try.

Painful Crunching/Popping

First of all, rotating the shoulder should never cause pain. If popping or clicking is accompanied by pain or significant discomfort, it is most likely a symptom of more serious damage.

I had a tough shoulder injury once and every time I raised my arm over 90-degrees I would experience sharp pain accompanied with some clicking sounds. I injured something called the AC-joint, which is not the common thing.

Common causes of painful shoulder popping are 1) labral tears, 2) rotator cuff tears, 3) shoulder dislocations, and arthritis.

For these kinds of things you really need to consult a doctor or other medical professional, but here is an outline of the different injuries that could be helpful to you.

1) Labral Tears

Labral tears or SLAP tears are characterized by the tearing of the labrum from the bone. The labrum is a piece of fibrocartilage which holds the socket of the shoulder joint in place.

A labral tear is often the result of an injury or repetitive stress, a frequent example being the stress caused by weightlifting.

Common symptoms include pain when the shoulder is rotated and a snapping or popping sound which is created by the loose labrum catching in the joint. In less severe cases, physical therapy and rest can alleviate symptoms. However, more critical tears may require arthroscopic shoulder surgery.

2) Rotator Cuff Tears

The rotator cuff consists of several muscles and tendons around the shoulder joint that hold the head of the humerus securely inside the socket of the shoulder blade.

The shoulder can be loosened if these tendons are torn. When this occurs, the shoulder has friction with other ligaments or structures, leading to a painful snapping or popping and intense weakness.

In severe cases, this may result in an inability to raise the arm. Rotator cuff tears can also lead to other damage such as the inflammation of the bursa, which is the sac between the joint and the surrounding bones, tendons, and ligaments.

3) Shoulder Dislocation

Shoulder dislocation is a very common reason for shoulder popping.

A dislocation occurs when the ball of the humerus is pulled out of the shoulder socket. When the head of the humerus slides around the edge of the socket, it may create clicking or popping sensations.

Chronic shoulder dislocations or partial dislocations, known as subluxations, can also lead to muscular weakness in the arm or shoulder, known as a ”dead arm” as well as reduced motility

Although these are the most common reasons for painful popping in the shoulder, this is not a comprehensive list.

In fact, there are several other conditions that could also be the culprit. If you are currently experiencing pain and popping in your shoulder, it is best not to self-diagnose and instead, contact a physiotherapist or orthopedic specialist as soon as possible.

You can read more about it on this excellent orthopedic surgeon’s website.

Improving Your Posture

Above I mentioned how poor posture could be a contributing factor to your shoulder popping. Especially rounded shoulders, forward head posture or slouching in general.

With that in mind, if you are worried about the weird noises from your shoulders then it makes good sense to work on your posture.

You should not think about it as a “fix” or solution, but I am confident that it could help. Even if there is no change to the “popping” you are doing something good for your joints. Improving posture actually has a long list of health benefits.

If you are interested in working on your posture, here are the three things I suggest you to focus on.

  1. Improve your ergonomics. Focus on where you spend the time most, e.g. your desk, your bed (many people disregard this), couch, and car.
  2. Improve “postural awareness” – Become familiar with what good posture looks and feels like.
  3. Reverse the effects that maintaining poor posture have had by stretching shortened and tight muscles and strengthen elongated and weak muscles. You can check out some exercises here.

A lot of people find that products known as posture correctors are helpful in changing their posture for the better. You can check out something I wrote here on some good posture shirts for shoulder injuries.

My name is Marcus, I am a lawyer (LL.M.) and the founder of this website. Besides sometimes doing lawyer stuff, I like to write about fitness and health and share what I have found “works” for people like YOU. If you want to know more about me and my vision for this website then you can click here.

4 comments… add one
  • Benny Smith Jan 2, 2019 @ 13:38

    I always wonder why this happens to me, although i never feel any kind of pain from the popping sound. Thanks for the informative post sharing with us.

    • Marcus Jan 2, 2019 @ 21:07

      You are welcome Benny. I also do hear popping sounds from my shoulders from time to time.

  • Bree Ward Feb 9, 2019 @ 13:17

    I get worried when you said that if popping or clicking of the shoulder is accompanied by pain or significant discomfort, it’s most likely a symptom of more serious damage. My sister has been complaining about her shoulder that’s painful when she tried to rotate it and she admits that she fell off the balcony the other day. I think I need to consult an orthopedist soon. This might result into some serious condition. Thanks for letting me know.

    • Marcus Feb 9, 2019 @ 14:04

      Always a good choice to consult a medical professional 🙂

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