It’s not unusual to feel or hear your shoulder pop or crack occasionally. But if it happens often or is accompanied by pain or a sensation of warmth, it’s a good idea to contact your doctor.

Crepitus (cracking) in your shoulder joint doesn’t always cause pain, and it doesn’t always mean something’s wrong. Your tendons and bones can make a cracking sound even when they’re working together perfectly.

But if cracking is painful and happens after a recent injury, there could be an internal muscle strain, tear, or fracture that a healthcare professional needs to address.

If injuries aren’t treated properly, the intricate system of tendons and muscles that holds your joint together can be affected. This can lead to “frozen shoulder,” which restricts your range of motion.

Here are some common causes of that popping sound you may be hearing.

Fluid-filled sacs called bursa are found between your bone and soft tissue. They help reduce tension and friction between the two surfaces.

If the bursa becomes inflamed, you may feel a painful stabbing or warmth. You might also hear a “pop” when you try to move your arms in any direction. This condition is also known as snapping scapula syndrome.

A shoulder fracture can happen because of a car accident, contact sports, or a fall — among other reasons.

While the pain of your injury may be long gone, an occasional grinding or popping sound could be a permanent side effect. Even a hairline fracture, if it doesn’t heal correctly, can cause a popping sensation in your shoulder.

When your bones fuse together after a break, they can create ridges on your shoulder blades or ribs. These ridges are more prone to catch or rub against your muscles and sometimes make an audible noise.

The labrum is a structure made of cartilage that sits in your shoulder socket. It can become torn because of overuse, age, or injury.

Labral tears are often quite painful. You might hear a grinding or popping sound when you try to use your shoulder for any reason.

Rather than an occasional pop or pain, labral tears create consistent pain and discomfort with nearly any activity.

A benign growth in your shoulder, scapula, or rib cage called an osteochondroma can cause your shoulder to crack when you raise your arm. These kinds of growths are the most common benign bone growths.

You might have one of these growths with no other symptoms.

Sometimes, working out or simply raising your shoulders quickly can release gas from your joints, like what happens when you crack your knuckles.

In these cases, there’s no underlying condition or pain that’s connected to your shoulder cracking.

This kind of sound is related to cavitation, or air bubbles in your joints.

As you age, the spongy cartilage that keeps your bones from rubbing against each other can start to break down.

A snapping or cracking sound in your shoulder could mean your bones are making contact with each other as a result. The sound of grating or cracking can be a symptom of arthritis.

Common treatments for recurring shoulder pain include:

  • corticosteroid injections
  • anti-inflammatory medications
  • physical therapy
  • chiropractic adjustment of your bones
  • massage therapy

In other cases, over-the-counter pain relievers might be all you need. A doctor will decide on a treatment plan depending on what’s causing your shoulder condition.

In some cases, home remedies are enough to treat shoulder pain. If your shoulders simply crack or pop occasionally without causing you a great deal of discomfort, you might want to try treating your crepitus at home.

Learn more about exercises to relieve shoulder pain.

Shoulder popping and discomfort aren’t uncommon, but finding your specific cause can be a little tricky.

If you notice redness, swelling, or warmth around your shoulder joint, consider making an appointment with a doctor to discuss your concerns. Be sure to mention any recurring pain or discomfort that happens with daily activity.