Crepitus. It sounds a bit ominous, but the medical term for the snaps, crackles, and pops that your body makes from time to time isn’t always bad news. However, the picture is more complex when it’s your shoulder doing the popping.
The shoulder is a complex piece of anatomy that combines three bones and two joints to provide a wide range of motion with remarkable strength. Some of the popping sounds your shoulder makes are incidental. They won’t cause any pain or, if they do, it will be momentary, not very severe, and you won’t lose mobility.
Pops accompanied by lasting pain, swelling, or other issues need medical attention, of course, but there are times when you experience painless crepitus, yet there may be steady, slow deterioration happening with every click and crunch, even when you feel no pain.
How can you tell these painless pops apart? You can’t, and that’s why Dr. James A. Nassiri, a shoulder pain expert, and the team at Westside Pain Specialists, with locations in Beverly Hills and Rancho Cucamonga, California, want you to get that popping sound in your shoulder checked right away.
The shallow socket
Compare the range of motion of your shoulder and your hip, and you’ll realize that the ball and socket joint of the shoulder permits far more mobility than that of your hip. This is due to the shallow depth of the glenoid, the “socket” of the shoulder. This means the ball on the top of the humerus has a very wide rotational scope.
Your shoulder relies on soft tissue to guarantee the stability of the joint. Since shoulder dislocations are common injuries, it’s obvious that the soft tissue can fail, and the socket isn’t deep enough to successfully contain the ball.
Cartilage, ligaments, and muscle
The labrum is one of these soft tissues. It’s a ring of cartilage that extends the depth of the shoulder socket but, being softer than bone, it has more “give.” This is great for extended mobility, but it won’t provide enough support during extreme movements or loads.
Ligaments help the labrum with the task of holding the joint together. Ligaments are naturally stretchy, providing a supportive sling that holds the joint together while permitting controlled and precise movement.
Finally, there are the four muscles that, together, form a group called the rotator cuff. These muscles connect the bones of the shoulder as well as drive its motion.
Causes of crepitus
Moving your shoulder can release pockets of gas that form within the joint, producing a popping sound. Why this happens isn’t precisely known, but it’s normal and not associated with any harmful condition.
A congenital bone spur, an osteochondroma is a common benign bone growth that sometimes causes cracking or popping when you raise your arm. You may have no symptoms other than popping.
Soft sacs of fluid that help cushion joints through their movements, bursa sacs are vulnerable to inflammation. This may cause popping with shoulder motion, and it’s usually accompanied by joint warmth or stabbing pain.
When the labrum tears due to age or injury, it can cause grinding or popping and intense pain whenever you use your shoulder. It’s difficult to ignore popping due to labral tears.
The cartilage that prevents bone-on-bone contact breaks down with time and use, resulting in osteoarthritis. Popping, grating, and cracking sounds could be signs of this form of arthritis.
While your shoulder noise is probably not a serious issue, there’s always a chance that it could be, particularly if you’re older, you’ve overused your shoulder, or suffered a known injury. Call either office of Westside Pain Specialists today to arrange your comprehensive examination. You can also send Dr. Nassiri and the team a message here on the website any time.