Woman holds clicking, popping shoulder.

Is This Serious? Why Do My Shoulders Click?

Kerrie-Ann Bernard Is this serious?, Shoulder pain


Shoulder concerns are one of the most common reasons patients seek physiotherapy, with 30% of people experiencing shoulder pain at some time in their life. Shoulders are prone to injury with 50% of adults 55 years or older having a detectable shoulder muscle tear. So, if you are experiencing pain along with clicking, popping, and cracking in your shoulder, stop reading and book a physiotherapy assessment as this could be a symptom of a more serious condition or injury.

We realize that sometimes all you just want to know is if something is serious or not. Experiencing clicking and popping in your shoulder when lifting your arm, doing push-ups or bench presses or even when just shrugging can be worrisome for sure. Many people assume that clicking, popping or cracking sounds in their shoulders is caused by serious injury. While we always suggest you seek medical care at the onset of any new symptoms, sometimes you just need to know how much to worry. So, today we’ll address the possible causes and treatment options for shoulders that click, crack, and pop without any pain.


You’re here because you can hear it, that popping, clicking, or cracking in your shoulders when you lift your arms when you’re doing pushups or bench presses or lateral raises, even when you’re shrugging or rolling your shoulders back. It doesn’t hurt but it is concerning to be sure.


Although there could be any number of causes for clicking shoulders, a common cause is the muscle tendons moving or flicking across the bony structures in your shoulder. Your muscle tendons are very strong and stringy, acting almost like guitar strings when they brush or move across your bones, this movement can cause that clicking, popping, or cracking noise as it vibrates over a bone. If your shoulder suddenly started clicking, popping, or cracking in the past few months, you may have injured the muscle and altered its shape or track in which it runs along. The sudden onset of these sounds may indicate that further damage may be happening and you should seek an assessment from a qualified physiotherapist. However, some minor causes of shoulder clicking could be:

  • Scapulothoracic bursitis – Caused by an inflammation of the bursa, which helps glide movement between the two surfaces.
  • Malunion of fractures of the scapula or ribs – If you’ve experienced a recent fracture of your shoulder or ribs and the bones do not heal properly, they can develop ridges that will be prone to catching and making noise
  • Labral tears – Damage to the larum, which is a cartilaginous structure that holds the shoulder together.
  • Osteocondroma – a benign bone or cartilage growth in the shoulder, scapula, or rib cage.


Physiotherapists are experts at realigning movement and making changes to your posture to allow your muscles and bones glide more efficiently – regardless of how serious your condition is. Below are a few ways that a physiotherapist can reduce or improve your shoulder symptoms, especially that clicking or popping:

  • Posture corrections
  • Modalities to encourage faster healing
  • Stretching/strengthening exercises
  • Activity modifications

If caught and treated early and effectively you can see an improvement in symptoms within a relatively short period of time. If you’re experiencing clicking, popping, or cracking in your shoulders it’s best to book an appointment with a qualified physical therapist to get a full assessment and treatment plan in place– no doctor referral needed!*


*A doctor referral may be required to access your third party insurance

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