Causes of Shoulder Pain and Popping

Causes of Shoulder Pain and Popping

June 6, 2023

 Have you ever wondered why your shoulder pops?

I often hear this question in my practice.  There are several reasons for this common issue.  The shoulder is a complex and unstable joint.  It is comprised of bone, ligaments, cartilage, and tendons that allow for the ease of movement in so many different directions.  This is also why the shoulder is a commonly injured joint that results in shoulder pain.

Before assuming the worst, ask yourself…

  1. Is the popping painful?
  2. Has there been a recent injury of the shoulder resulting in any shoulder pain?
  3. Does my shoulder feel stable?
  4. Is it accompanied by any weakness?

Clicking and popping may occur for many reasons.  If it is painless, it can be just a harmless joint noise known as crepitus.  But if it is associated with pain it may be due to the degenerative arthritis from years of wear and tear.  This occurs when the cartilage that protects the bone has worn down and is now rough.  The joint is no longer smooth and increased friction can develop making the joint rub together like two pieces of sand paper.  The result is increased joint inflammation and shoulder pain.  If left untreated, it can continue to progress causing loss of motion, strength, and eventually inability to use the arm.

Sometimes clicking and popping can be due to repetitive over use of the shoulder resulting in bursitis and tendinitis.  These conditions occur from too much of the same activity that causes swelling in bursa sac and rotator cuff tendons.  The bursae are fluid filled sacs that cushions the shoulder.  The tendons are the cords that connect the muscle to the bone. The rotator cuff tendons become worn down slowly over time much like the sole of a shoe that eventually wears apart.  If left untreated, the result is a tearing of the rotator cuff tendon causing increased pain, inability to sleep, lost motion, decreased strength, and inability to use the arm with many daily activities.


Shoulder pain and impingement occurs when the space between the top of the shoulder blade (called acromion) and the top of the upper arm bone (called head of the humerus) is narrowed due to swelling and inflammation.  This causes a pinching of the rotator cuff tendons and bursa.  If left untreated, this too can lead to tearing of the rotator cuff tendons and lost function in the shoulder.

Shoulder instability occurs when the head of the upper arm bone (humerus) is forced out of the socket.  This can be either partially out of socket (called a subluxation) or completely out of socket (called a dislocation).  In many cases, the ligaments (which hold the bones together) are too loose.  This laxity can be genetic or traumatic in origin.  The result is additional damage to the cartilage (labrum) of the shoulder and increased pain and weakness.  If left untreated, the episodes can increase in severity and frequency.  This can cause increased risk of arthritis.

Treatment of Shoulder Pain & Popping


One of our licensed physical therapists will perform an initial examination to identify the cause of the pain.  At Flex Physical Therapy, one of our main goals is teaching our patients with shoulder pain how to address the issue so it will go away forever.  Several tests are performed to identify the problematic areas in strength, flexibility, and muscle function.

  1. Protection of the shoulder is initially a must to prevent further damage. This may include rest for a period of time and education about damaging activities and movements.
  2. Flexibility movements to increase mobility without pain or discomfort are included. These should be gentle and progressive with emphasis on proper mechanics of the shoulder.
  3. Progressive strengthening exercises for different muscle groups. Examples include specific rotator cuff exercises and shoulder blade strengthening (known as scapular stabilization).
  4. Advanced techniques such as massage, mobilizations, manual therapy under the expert supervision of the physical therapist can be effective ways to decrease shoulder pain.

In addition to the above treatments, Flex Physical Therapy utilizes the ML830 Cold Laser (made by Microlight).  The 830Laser is designed to decrease pain, decrease inflammation and increase tissue healing.  This treatment does not wear off like heat, ice, or medications.  If you don’t reinjure the area, the pain should not return.  Our clinic in Council Bluffs, Iowa has Laser Certified Physical Therapists.  

Call Today

 Flex Physical Therapy in Council Bluffs, Iowa will help you to regain and improve function by increasing the motion in the shoulder, decreasing shoulder pain and inflammation, and strengthening the muscles of the shoulder and shoulder blade.  The first step is to educate the patient in how to help themselves through activity modification and joint protection followed by exercises and hands on techniques to permanently alleviate your pain.  We are experts in how to deal with shoulder pain and popping, call us at 712-256-1800.  This is a problem we deal with on a regular basis with a very high success rate.

At Flex Physical Therapy, we are committed to helping you live a healthy and pain free life.   We always work closely with your physician and insurance company to make sure you have the best care available.  Be wary of other physical therapy clinics who use treatments such as heat, ice, and ultrasound as these treatments do not address the root cause of the shoulder pain and problem and wear off.

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