My Shoulders Pop When I Do Push-Ups

Sporty young woman doing a pushups at gym.
Popping noises from the shoulder are not unusual when doing push-ups. (Image: Zoran Zeremski/iStock/Getty Images)

Does your shoulder make popping or snapping noises when you're doing push-ups? If so -- assuming there's no pain -- it's probably nothing to worry about. 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. According to a paper published in a 2002 issue of the Journal of the American Osteopathic Association, the escape of these gases can increase your range of motion by 5 to 10 percent.

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.

Portrait of a young woman flexing her biceps
Even healthy shoulders make funny noises. (Image: Purestock/Purestock/Getty Images)

Or 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 over-tight pectoral upper back muscles may be prescribed, or strengthening exercises for weaker muscles.

Injuries

If popping, snapping or other strange auditory phenomena start to radiate pain from the shoulder 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 if inflammation is present.

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