My shoulder pops. Is that bad?

Dr. Alex Immerman assessing a patient

I call these rice crispies. Snaps, crackles, and pops are typical in the shoulder and a concern for many physical therapy patients.

Rice crispies occur in the shoulder for many reasons. The shoulder joint has the most range of motion in the entire body. But with great mobility comes great responsibility!

The large amount of motion in the shoulder provides many ways to compensate. If the quality of shoulder movement is poor, it risks becoming unstable. Excellent movement quality is challenging in such a mobile joint, so the shoulder is commonly injured.

But before you worry too much about rice crispies in the shoulder, ask yourself if it is painful. If it is painless, it may only be a harmless joint noise known as crepitus, simply pressure released from the joint. Crepitus is what happens when you crack your knuckles.

But, if there is pain with the noise, consider seeing a physical therapist like our team here at CHP.

Movement compensations in the shoulder and repetitive use can irritate several tissues within the shoulder. One example is rotator cuff tendinitis, which is a common sports physical therapy injury in Bethesda and McLean.

Tendons are the cords that connect muscle to bone. The rotator cuff tendons can become worn down 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, resulting in increased pain and an inability to exercise or train fully. Limitations can progress further, affecting sleep, strength, and the ability to use the arm with daily activities.

The most important thing is to figure out why the pain or rice crispies started in the first place.

Small rotator cuff tears, arthritis, and joint damage is expected within the shoulder. But there is still a great deal that you can do (without surgery) to get out of pain and back to performing the activities that you love.

A great sports physical therapist will help you identify the root cause of your symptoms so that you can continue to exercise and enjoy your active lifestyle.

Contact us if you have questions about how we can help you with shoulder pain/popping and get you back to doing the activities you love.

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