What to Know About Crepitus in Your Shoulders

Medically Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on October 25, 2021
4 min read

‌Crepitus is a sound like crackling, grinding, or squeaking in a joint when you move it. Crepitus has many causes. It’s often the result of damage to your cartilage and joint tissue. 

Your shoulder is an important and complex joint. The humerus bone in your upper arm connects to your scapula, or shoulder blade, with cartilage, muscles, and tendons. You may hear noise from your shoulder if any of these connections don’t work the way they should. 

Here are some of the most common causes of shoulder crepitus.

Cavitation. Small bubbles of gas can collect in your joints and cause cracking sounds when you move too quickly. This sound is known as cavitation. Cracking your knuckles is another example of cavitation. This type of noise is harmless.

Bursitis. Your joints are protected by cushions known as bursa sacs, or bursae. They keep your joints moving comfortably. But your bursae may swell and become painful when irritated. This can cause a stabbing or warm sensation in your shoulder, along with a snapping sound when you move your arms.

Labral tears. Your labrum is the cartilage that connects your arm and shoulder. You’ll notice frequent or constant pain in the joint if it gets torn because of overuse or injury. You may also have a grinding or popping noise when you move your arm.

Arthritis.Arthritis causes the cartilage in your joints to break down over time. This can lead your bones to touch each other and make clicking or grinding noises.

Shoulder fractures. The bones in your shoulder joint may not heal perfectly after a break. Even hairline fractures in your humerus or scapula can heal into ridges instead of their original smooth condition. This can cause your shoulder joint to make noise when you use your arms.

Osteochondromas. The bones in your shoulder or rib cage may form a benign growth called an osteochondroma. These growths can cause your shoulder to pop or click. But they may not have any other symptoms.

If your shoulder joint makes noise sometimes but you don’t notice any pain or discomfort, your shoulder is probably fine. But if you have pain, warmth, or soreness in your shoulder joint along with crepitus, you may need medical treatment.

Leaving injuries and arthritis untreated can cause your shoulder joint to get worse over time. Minor damage to your cartilage can add up. Injuries that could have been treated with noninvasive methods may require surgery if they’re ignored for months or years. 

Talk to your doctor about the cause and potential treatments if your shoulder regularly hurts and makes noise when you use it. 

Your doctor may recommend one of several treatments for the cause of crepitus in your shoulder. Most medical professionals focus on treating underlying conditions and not the noise itself. 

These solutions can help reduce pain and help your shoulder joint heal.

Anti-inflammatory medications. Conditions like osteoarthritis often involve inflammation in the affected joints. Anti-inflammatory medications like ibuprofen, aspirin, and naproxen can help reduce the swelling and pain of arthritis.

Physical therapy. Physical therapy can help you regain more use of a joint after an injury. It can help your muscles and tendons recover and become less tight and painful if your shoulder crepitus is from an injury.

Corticosteroid shots. A corticosteroid shot can help ease inflammation and encourage your joint to heal. Your doctor may recommend steroid shots if you have an injury or arthritis that’s causing your shoulder joint to get more painful over time.

Surgery. This may be the best option when shoulder crepitus is connected to a serious injury. Your doctor can repair tendons, remove osteochondromas, or reconstruct the joint. Your joint should be more comfortable, easier to use, and less noisy after the surgery.

You may be able to treat crepitus at home if your shoulders crack sometimes without pain.

Good posture. Slouching may misalign your shoulders. This causes gas bubbles to build up and make noise when you move. Improving your posture may be enough to reduce or stop the noise if your crepitus is caused by cavitation.

Gentle exercise. Strengthening your shoulder joint can help you feel more comfortable and may help prevent cracking noises. Options like yoga can help you build strength without stressing or injuring your shoulders.

Icing the joint.Ice may help if you have a minor shoulder injury that seems connected to the popping noises. Icing your shoulder for 10 to 15 minutes several times a day can reduce swelling and make you more comfortable while you heal.