The shoulder joint is the most mobile joint in the body. In part due to this, many of my clientele complain of clicking and popping within the shoulder (or shoulderS) and this can be anywhere from painful to annoying. Check out this weeks' post to understand the full shoulder joint and what you can do to put an end to your clicky and poppy shoulders...
Although the shoulder joint is anatomically technically 4 joints, most people typically think of the glenohumeral joint (ball and socket) when considering the shoulder. This portion of the shoulder is where the clicking/popping symptoms occur as a result of the "ball" (head of the humerus) sliding around on the "socket" (glenoid) which can be visualized comparatively as a golf ball sliding around on a tee.
These symptoms occur when the stability of the glenohumeral joint is insufficient - for one reason or another. The stability of the shoulder can be broken down between active components (namely, your muscles) and passive components (ligaments, labrum, etc.).
Some people are naturally born more "loose", so to speak, when it comes to things like joint capsules and ligaments. Other people can acquire increased mobility of the joint itself through over-stretching the shoulder in particular ways or particular repetitive motions (such as a baseball pitcher, for example). Even with solid ligamentous and joint capsule stability, the shoulder can still move around quite a bit compared to other ball and socket joints (like the hip) due to the limited bony configuration - again, visualize a large golf ball on a small tee.
Either way, when this movement is present the shoulder requires more stability from the active components of shoulder stability (as we said previously, the muscles). If the muscles are unable to take on this increased demand (too weak, poor timing of contraction, etc.), then the stability of the joint will "fail", so to speak.
When this stability system "fails", this can contribute to symptoms such as clicking or popping in one or both of your shoulders as a result of the ball sliding around on the socket and running into or over various structures within the shoulder.
The bad news is, it is difficult to modify the "tightness" of the passive structures of the shoulder without an invasive procedure, such as a capsulorrhaphy.
The good news is, we can improve these symptoms WITHOUT surgery by improving the portion of this system that we DO have control of - the active stabilizers (aka: our muscles)
More specifically, the rotator cuff muscles play a huge role in the stability in our shoulder joints. The rotator cuff is made up of 4 relatively smaller muscles (teres minor, infraspinatus, supraspinatus, and subscapularis) that surround the shoulder joint. Although each of these muscles can move the arm in a given direction, the primary function of these muscles is to provide compression of the "ball" into the "socket" with shoulder motion to prevent sliding and translation of the joint itself (aka provide stability).
Like I previously alluded to, the ability of the muscles to stabilize the shoulder comes down to 2 main features - timing of contraction and gross strength. Many people lift weights to gain strength, however it is often overlooked that the timing of muscle contraction during a movement is vital, particularly in a large 4-joint complex such as the shoulder. In this case, we want the rotator cuff to contract well prior to, and throughout, movement of the shoulder to maintain a good contact between the ball and socket.
While strength is often king when it comes to injury, it doesn't hurt to address both components simultaneously. Check out this video for exercises that can help you ditch your clicking and popping shoulders.
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