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Shoulder Popping with No Pain: Good News or Bad News?

POSTED ON IN Ligament/tendon Shoulder BY Chris Centeno

So you have shoulder popping with no pain. That’s something to be ignored, right? It certainly seems harmless enough—after all, there’s no pain, just that annoying popping when you move your shoulder this way or that. But just because there’s no pain doesn’t mean there’s no problem. There’s actually good news and bad news here. The good news? All that shoulder popping really could be no big deal. The bad news? That popping could be slowly chewing up your shoulder joint, and it may be a warning sign that arthritis is on its way.

So how can you tell the difference, and what can you do about it? Let’s start by taking a look at the shoulder.

The Shoulder and Its Ligaments

The shoulder is a ball-and-socket joint where the head of the humerus (the long bone of the upper arm) forms the ball that rests in a shallow depression of the scapula called the glenoid. There are ligaments (e.g., capsular, coracohumeral, coracoacromial, etc.) that hold the shoulder in place and provide stability by keeping movement precise and controlled.

These ligaments can be stretched by an injury without breaking, and this can lead to loose ligaments. When the ligaments become loose, the shoulder can move too far backward or forward. This extra movement is called instability, and even shoulder popping with no pain can be a symptom of this instability.

This instability can occur due to a variety of reasons: trauma causing shoulder dislocation, degeneration of the joint with aging, wear and tear, and so on. Injuries to the ligaments can actually affect the entire shoulder, and if left unaddressed, they can lead to other shoulder issues, such as shoulder labral tears and early shoulder arthritis and, eventually, pain.

How Do I Know if My Shoulder Popping with No Pain Is Good or Bad?

Regrettably, for the most part, your orthopedic surgeon or family doctor has not been trained to identify these types of instability issues. In fact, it’s quite the opposite: they’ve been taught to ignore them! This is despite the evidence that unstable joints can lead to the quicker onset of arthritis.

Since it’s unlikely your doctors will be much help here, how can you tell which type of shoulder popping you have? Do you have the it’s-no-big-deal shoulder popping, or do you have the it’s-chewing-up-my-shoulder-joint shoulder popping? You’re going to need to dig into your history a bit. Have you had a shoulder “separation” in the past? Has your shoulder popped out of the socket, or been dislocated, in the past? Have you had shoulder trauma, perhaps due to a car accident or sports injury, where you had significant pain and then you assumed healed because, well, there’s been no pain over the past 5, 10, or even 20 years? Think way back. If so, then this popping may be a big deal. If you’ve never had any of these past traumas, then chances are, the popping is no big deal.

Don’t Wait for the Pain to Set In

If your particular shoulder popping with no pain falls in the bad news category, until there is pain, your doctor is probably not going to suggest any treatment—remember, they typically ignore these issues. However, by the time pain sets in, you may already have developed arthritis, a labral tear, or some other shoulder issue. Regrettably, surgery is currently the most common way to stabilize shoulder instability, but it is invasive, there is a huge amount of downtime, and the recovery process is lengthy. However, there are newer and much less invasive ways to tighten ligaments without surgery by precisely injecting your own concentrated platelets into lax ligaments.

The upshot? If you have had shoulder injuries and now have popping in that area, then you need to have the stability of your shoulder ligaments examined. Avoiding surgery for shoulder instability shouldn’t be a problem as it is easily treatable with today’s advanced image-guided regenerative medicine injections into the loose ligaments. This is one of those situations in which the sooner the better, however, because the problem is harder to fix once arthritis sets in.

 

 

 

    *DISCLAIMER: Like all medical procedures, Regenexx® Procedures have a success and failure rate. Patient reviews and testimonials on this site should not be interpreted as a statement on the effectiveness of our treatments for anyone else.
    Providers listed on the Regenexx website are for informational purposes only and are not a recommendation from Regenexx for a specific provider or a guarantee of the outcome of any treatment you receive.

    comments

    Debbie Jacobson says

    I appreciate this information so informative and interesting. I do believe less evasive therapy is the answer. I will continue to get information from your site, thank you so much. It gives us a point of education beyond the every day medical choices. I just think your team is so awesome and Dr. Osborn and team are top notch!

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    Chris Centeno says

    Thanks Debbie!, We'll pass that along to Dr. Osborn...

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    Vincent says

    HI,
    I had shoulder surgery for a clavicle separation over 10 years ago. My shoulder does not hurt but I do have a lot of snap and pop. What methods would you use to diagnose my ordeal. Would an mri be absolutely necessary? And would I probably need prp or stem cells to repair any damage*
    Thank you

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    Chris Centeno says

    Vincent,

    An MRI would be necessary to do the Phone Candidacy review. For the actual exam it would be helpful, but a Stress Ultrasound exam would give significantly more information as it would allow the doctor to see the tendons and ligaments functioning in motion. The decision about whether stem cells or prp is needed is based on the exam. Please see: http://www.regenexx.com/shoulder-instability-recovery-time/

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    Jonathan Medina says

    Hello I think I might be in the bad news category, I had a dislocation not to long ago and now my shoulder pops when I roll my shoulder and I don't know what to do. Where do I go to get my shoulder treated I wanna get help for it asap.

    replies

    Chris Centeno says

    Jonathon,
    The good news is there is treatment to help. Best place to start would be to submit the Candidate form here to see if you would be a Candidate: https://www.regenexx.com/the-regenexx-procedures/shoulder-surgery-alternative/

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    Tom Compton says

    Hi I’ve had shoulder popping issues for as long as I can remember in both shoulders. It’s completely controlled but I don’t know why it’s occurred as it has. I’ve been to physiotherapists and doctors about it but none have been able to give any advice or help other than “exercises”. Not sure what to do or if I should do anything about it.

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    Chris Centeno says

    Tom, the big issue is to rule out any instability. This requires a specialized exam.

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    Pam says

    So I have been going to the gym for roughly 5 months and now my shoulder has been clicking for like a week without any pain. It constantly and mostly clicks if I rotate my arm clockwise forward in a circle manner. I have had NO injuries in the past of any sort. Iam 16 yrs of age and wanted to know what it could be, my shoulder doesn’t feel loose,feels solid but clicks/cracks when rotated. And plus want to know if I should stop gym for a while if not then what kind of excersizes and stretches should I be doing to improve the clicks/cracks. This will be sooo appreciates and thankful if people reply.THXS.

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    Chris Centeno says

    Pam,
    We'd need to examine you to advise. This could be a rotator cuff tear, as well as other things. This is our UK location: https://www.algocells.com/?utm_source=regenexxreferral&utm_medium=webreferral&utm_campaign=regenexxlocations

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    Ashwin says

    So I'm a high school swimmer and I swim for about two and a half hours every day. This past week, my right shoulder has been experiencing constant painless popping. Even over the most simple of motions like raising my hand or reaching for something, it pops. I have not had any injuries in the past whatsoever and my shoulder feel perfectly fine, but the constant clicking is concerning. Not sure what to do about this.

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    Chris Centeno says

    Ashwin,
    As a swimmer who puts that level of stress on a shoulder daily it would likely be a good idea to be examined, as this type of popping can signal that a tendon or ligament is compromised. Please see: https://www.regenexx.com/the-regenexx-procedures/shoulder-surgery-alternative/ To look into setting that up, please call 855 622 7838.

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    Jason Wilkerson says

    I had rotator cuff surgery about 8 months ago with bicep tenodesis. I had rotator cuff done before in 2005. This time though I have clicking in my shoulder at my clavicle and it does like a thunking sound. It feels unstable at times. I am not sure what to do with this. Rotator cuff already took months to recover, but I don't want to wear out the joint. I'm 47 and not get any younger.

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    Regenexx Team says

    Hi Jason,
    To see if there is anything we can do to help we'd need more information through a Candidacy review, and to examine you, but unfortunately this is very common with this surgery and more common with the effects of multiple surgeries. Please see: https://www.regenexx.com/blog/biceps-tenodesis-side-effects/ and https://www.regenexx.com/blog/there-are-many-reasons-to-rethink-arthroscopy-shoulder-surgery/ and https://www.regenexx.com/conditions-treated/shoulder/ If you'd like us to weigh in, please submit the candidate form here: www.regenexx.com

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    Langston says

    I am 17 years old, had a rotator cuff dislocation about a year ago, and dislocated my shoulder again fully again today. It did not hurt at all. Is this bad? I sometimes have clicking when rotating my shoulder. Signs of tendonitis?

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    Regenexx Team says

    Hi Langston,
    Please see: https://www.regenexx.com/blog/shoulder-dislocation-surgery-recovery-time/

    replies

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    About the Author

    Chris Centeno

    Christopher J. Centeno, M.D. is an international expert and specialist in regenerative medicine and the clinical use of mesenchymal stem cells in orthopedics. He is board certified in physical medicine as well as rehabilitation and in pain management through The American Board of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation.…

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