Crunching sound when rolling shoulders

People who experience a crunching sound when rolling shoulders may have many questions in their mind. And here, in this article--which is totally research based and should not be considered as a substitute for medical advice—we are going to explore some of the reasons or causes, the underlying problems leading to the unusual sounds and some easy solutions one may consider to alleviate the problem.

What does the crunching sound in a shoulder mean?

Shoulder popping, clicking, cracking and grinding are commonly heard things among people. They become more relevant just as people age with time. Sometimes, just a slight move or rolling of the shoulder could produce a crunching sound or may be given a popping sensation. Such crunching sound or similar feeling in medical terms is known as crepitus.

This actually occurs near the shoulder joint right at the top side of the arm. Many people also experience a sharp and short spell of pain along with the crunching sound. This pain could possibly relate to some other injury or health condition.

Shoulder injuries, shoulder muscle stiffness, and shoulder pain are considered as the 3rd most common joint or muscle issue that make people visit a doctor. This shows that it is a common issue but still demands from people to be aware of the issue and do every bit to make their life comfortable and pain-free from shoulder issues.

What are the main causes of crunching sound in shoulders?

In order to understand the crunching sound issue in shoulders or the crepitus issue, we must first understand the dynamics of shoulders. The joint configuration of the human shoulder is such that it is arranged within a ball and socket type setting.

The humerus bone comes there and fit under and inside the shoulder blade or scapula. This is connected through the 4 x muscles, known as the rotator cuff. A structure is known as labrum, which is derived from cartilage functions as a kind of a soft cup right inside the shoulder blade, which actually keeps human’s arm in place.

It is the setting of the shoulder joint, which is done in such a way that it supports maximum mobility or movement of the arms in all directions. It is also the same anatomy that allows your arms to roll, bend or twist and this makes the shoulder joint even more vulnerable to developing pain and injuries.

By now, we know well about the shoulder joint configuration and how the shoulder movements are done. So, we can now very well relate the phenomenon of crepitus or what are the main causes of crunching sound in shoulders, when someone rolls their arm or make any movement while exercising or just like that. The following are some common causes listed:

  • Scapulothoracic Bursitis – Bursa, the sacs filled with fluid actually protects the shoulder joints and enables the base of your joint to move in tandem with shoulder socket. In a situation where the bursa becomes inflamed due to an injury or shoulder infection, then you may feel some level of pain, warmth and a crunching sound.

This usually happens when you tend to move your arms or roll them in any direction. Such condition of the shoulder is also alternately known as the snapping scapula syndrome.

  • Osteochondroma – It is a typical benign growth in the shoulder, rib cage or scapula. It can result in the shoulder to crunch or crack at times when someone with the issue raises or roll their arm. This is a commonly found benign bone growth issue of all that we know. There are at times when people with this issue doesn’t have any other symptoms.
  • Osteoarthritis – Just as your age, the shoulder cartilage may start to break, which is actually responsible for keeping your bones from brushing against each other. A popping audible sound or a crunching noise may alternatively mean that your shoulder bones are making some sort of contact with each other.

The crunching sound while moving or rolling the arm may also point to the symptoms of arthritis in its early stage.

  • Labral Tears – A part of the shoulder structure composed of cartilage, known as labrum could get torn because of age, injury or excessive exercising. The labral tears could be one of the most painful shoulder issues. This is the issue, which also results in producing a grinding sound when you try to roll your shoulder or just move it slightly from a still position.

The labral tears apart from producing a crunching sound can also result in consistent discomfort or pain with almost any shoulder activity that you do.

  • Cavitation – It is a kind of a situation where sometimes just a raise or roll of your shoulder could release out the present gasses from the shoulder joint. In such a scenario, there is absolutely no related medical condition or pain, which could be directly or indirectly related to the cracking of your shoulder.

The crunching sound produced due to this condition is related to the presence of air bubbles or cavitation in the shoulder joints. However, the precise mechanism that triggers this issue is still somewhat unclear in medical science.

  • Malunion of fractures of the ribs or scapula – A shoulder fracture could happen because of anything, which could be an injury sustained due to an accident, a slip or contact sports, etc. The pain in the shoulder might be long gone after the incident, but there could possibly be an occasional grinding or crunching sound experienced from the shoulder. This may well be a permanent or a lifetime side effect to deal with.

As much as a hairline fracture in the shoulder might result in producing crunching sounds in shoulder if the fraction isn’t healed correctly. At the time after being separated from the connecting bones due to fracture, some ridges may also be created right along the ribs or the shoulder blades.

The development of such ridges may possibly result in the catching or rubbing of the ridges against the muscles and these could result in producing an audible noise from the shoulders.

What are the typical effects of crunching sound in shoulders?

Depending on the nature of issue or shoulder damage discussed in the above section, the effect or symptoms may vary. Apart from the crunching sound that people may witness with their arm roll or may be doing any other arm movement, the following symptoms may be experienced:

  • Grating
  • ​Crackling
  • Cracking
  • Popping
  • Creaking
  • Grinding

If any of the above symptoms are evident, but with no movement or pain in the arm or shoulder, then that isn’t considered as a genuine shoulder issue. In the case of pain, the issue should be taken very seriously where medical or herbal treatment both could be considered.

It is highly imperative to notice here that the crepitus medical term discussed here is not exclusively related to joints issues only. Rather, it may also be used for describing the crackling audible noise coming from the lungs, having lungs disorders.

Some basic remedies for addressing crunching sounds in shoulders

Consulting a doctor for any such issue is highly advised as there is always a need to diagnose the issue through x-rays or scans of the shoulders. Once that is done, then the actual treatment starts. The doctors in case of extreme pain might suggest you some pain killers for quick relief, but those may have side effects, which you really don’t want to compound with the ongoing issue you have for the shoulders.

However, medical treatment or surgical options should always be considered, where your doctor is the best judge. However, the best and the most effective way to get quick and long lasting relief is through the following remedies:


Massage is an excellent option to counter pain, where the modern sophisticated massaging products have made life a lot easier for the people suffering from shoulder or any other joint issues.

There are plenty of different types of manual and electric massagers, where some also offer you to massage wet with herbal oil or any other lotion of your choice. Any massager best works if it is rightly applicable to your medical condition and also that you are using massage oil that best suits your skin.

The modern equipment and the natural placement of the shoulder to allow you to massage your shoulder yourself while using the other hand.

If you are applying oil through hands only, then the best technique is to first locate the exact point of crunching sound in the shoulder and massage gently using your fingers. The focus should be upon loosening up the tight muscles in the shoulder and relieve it from any tension.


Exercising and frequent planned movement of the shoulder is highly advised as well. You must be very careful in exercising as any wrong or unwanted movement may worsen the situation.

The movement of the arm/ shoulder should be of low impact but with a varying range of movements. Such movements or exercising would help in strengthening the shoulder muscles.

Taking a Hot Shower

A hot shower always help with shoulder crepitus issues including crunching sound coming from it. You may also use a humidifier or peppermint oil to relieve your shoulder from any inflammation.

Final Verdict:

Crunching sound while rolling your shoulder is described as crepitus in medical terms and this could be a result of any injury, stress or just the growing age factor.

Depending on the exact nature of the issue and its symptoms, the issue may vary from person to person. The best and the safest treatment is to get it cured through gentle and regular massaging.

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