My Shoulders Pop When I Do Push-Ups

Is your shoulder cracking or making popping or snapping noises when you're doing push-ups? If so — assuming there's no pain — it's probably nothing to worry about.

Popping noises from the shoulder are not unusual when doing push-ups. (Image: Westend61/Westend61/GettyImages)

It's not at all uncommon for joints to make music of a sorts when you're exercising. Although the neck, back and hips tend to make the most noise, the shoulders can certainly chime in there too. There are several different possible reasons for this and most of them are nothing to worry about.

Synovial Fluid and Escaping Gases

Our joints wouldn't be much use without the ongoing lube job they give themselves with a a substance called synovial fluid. It contains oxygen, nitrogen and carbon dioxide, which happen to all be gases.

When you do push-ups, you open space in the shoulder socket and other points where bones meet. That frees up pockets of gas that may escape with a bang, or at least a pop that's caused by the rapid release of pressure. Rather than regard the sound as an annoyance, you may learn to welcome it.

Check Your Form

The traditional push-up is performed with your hands spread slightly wider than shoulder-width. However, this position puts a great deal of strain on your shoulder joints — which could contribute to shoulder cracking.

Instead, begin your push-up in a plank position, with your hands directly in line with your shoulders. Your elbows should remain close to your sides throughout the movement.

Tendons and Ligaments

Popping noises from your shoulder could also be caused by the tendons snapping into or out of place. Tendons and ligaments are extremely elastic, and the tension that makes them good for keeping joints in place is also what makes them snap like rubber bands. This too is perfectly normal and nothing to worry about.

Is It Your Shoulder Blade?

Since first described in 1867, snapping scapula syndrome (scapula being Latin for "shoulder blade") has given rise to a whole menu of interesting noises, all more or less caused by a misaligned shoulder blade compressed against the ribs, causing the scapula to pivot rather than slide around its normal border.

There's "froissement," a basic friction sound; "frotting," which is a louder grating sound; and "craquement," a loud snapping sound. Snapping scapula syndrome may be accompanied by inflammation of the bursa and other tissues, and it may be painful or painless.

Extreme cases may require surgery, but snapping scapula syndrome is best treated with physical therapy. Stretches for overtight pectoral upper back muscles may be prescribed, or strengthening exercises for weaker muscles.

Other Shoulder Injuries

If shoulder cracking, popping, snapping or other strange auditory phenomena start to radiate pain through the arm or up to the neck, it may be a sign of a pulled or torn muscle. It could also be the friction of bones rubbing on each other, which could be the sign of arthritis developing. In this case, it may be time to consult a doctor, especially if inflammation is present.

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