Shoulder clicking

Snap, crackle, pop! When Andrea came in to see me, she was really concerned about the constant noises from her shoulders. She loved CrossFit and had recently started lifting heavier weights. As she started increasing her overhead lifts, she began to notice shoulder pain and clicking. The noises in her shoulder weren’t necessarily painful, but the increase in frequency combined with pain when lifting overhead made her wonder if something really bad was going on in her shoulder.

Shoulder exoskeleton

At our first meeting, Andrea expressed that continuing to do CrossFit was really important. She had always been a competitor, and if she lost the ability to do that, her whole life would be different. Her daily routine, social circle, and weekend activities would all change drastically.

Our Plan

We evaluated her current strengths and weaknesses and created a plan to make sure she could maintain her strength as we worked on her shoulder. She was really strong –  but her overhead mobility and rotator cuff strength had the ability to improve. We discussed that clicking and popping without pain or swelling are generally not to be feared. Our joints make noises without necessarily being damaged or injured.

Why Joints Pop

Oftentimes, pops in our joints are the formation or bursting of tiny gas bubbles inside the joint – rapid pressure changes with movement create cracking sounds. These sounds could also be from structures slightly stretching or moving over each other. Without pain or swelling, this also isn’t cause for concern. Andrea didn’t have any pain or swelling around the shoulder, so we were able to confidently say that the clicking and popping she heard wasn’t indicative of anything tearing or grinding. We created a plan focused on improving her ability to reach overhead, and strengthening her rotator cuff muscles. She could continue her CrossFit workouts with slight modifications as she improved in these other areas.

The Result

Andrea did a great job improving her rotator cuff muscle endurance and strength. Initially, Andrea was shocked at how difficult it was to lift a 3 pound weight just 15 times when isolating the rotators of her shoulder – especially considering she could clean & jerk 150 pounds. (If you’ve had a rotator cuff injury, you can still rehab it – check out Jamie’s story!) One of the obstacles we ran into was an increase in shoulder stiffness the day after an overhead workout as we worked back into those. We added some mobility work in immediately after these workouts and resolved the issue.

If you find yourself dealing with the same tightness or are hearing some of the same clicks in your shoulder, be sure to visit “Four Tips For Shoulder Pain – Mobility” to see the foundation for Andrea’s plan. For fast relief, you can also check out these exercises to ease shoulder pain.

Now, Andrea is back to regular CrossFit workouts and even competitions. Her shoulders still click & pop occasionally, but the frequency significantly decreased over time. Whenever she hears a click now, she knows not to worry – that it’s just some normal movement in the joint. Andrea continues to work on regular mobility and rotator cuff endurance to keep her shoulders feeling loose and healthy. She’s back to being herself and lifting heavier than ever! 

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