Houston Methodist. Leading Medicine

Shoulder FAQ


When I lift my arm up and especially if I raise my arm and stick my elbow out, I feel a snapping or catching sensation. What could cause this and is it something that could be serious?


A snapping or catching sensation felt along the front of the shoulder can be caused by many different problems. There could be a torn rotator cuff or a torn labrum. The labrum is a fibrous rim of extra cartilage around the otherwise shallow shoulder socket. It helps give the shoulder socket more depth and keeps the round ball at the top of the humerus (upper arm bone) in the socket. Other possible causes of shoulder snapping include bursitis, tendon tears, bone spurs, or loose pieces of cartilage or bone inside the shoulder joint. There's also a chance that it could be a shoulder bursitis. In a recent case report, symptoms of shoulder snapping like yours were reported in a 23-year-old weight lifter. When the weight lifter first went to the Mayo Clinic Sports Medicine Center in Rochester, Minnesota, he had an eight-week history of painful shoulder snapping. The snapping occurred whenever he lifted his arm straight forward with the elbow straight or when he used his left arm in a rowing motion. After a series of tests, they found a pocket of fluid over the tendon of the subscapularis muscle. The subscapularis muscle is part of the rotator cuff, so although the rotator cuff wasn't torn or ruptured, there was evidence of a tendinopathy. Tendinopathy refers to chronic changes in the tendon without active inflammation. Inflamed tissue was observed around the subcoracoid bursa. The subcoracoid bursa is sandwiched between the subscapularis muscle and the coracoid process. The coracoid process is a hook-shaped piece of bone that comes from the shoulder blade to help stabilize the shoulder. It's impossible to say what is causing your snapping shoulder without some specific tests to identify what's going on. Make an appointment with your primary care physician or an orthopedic physician and get a proper diagnosis. Early treatment can sometimes help prevent minor problems from growing into major problems. It may be something simple that can be treated easily if diagnosed early. Jonathan T. Finnoff, DO, et al. Subcoracoid Bursitis as an Unusual Cause of Painful Anterior Shoulder Snapping in a Weight Lifter. In The American Journal of Sports Medicine. August 2010. Vol. 38. No. 8. Pp. 1687-1692.

*Disclaimer:* The information contained herein is compiled from a variety of sources. It may not be complete or timely. It does not cover all diseases, physical conditions, ailments or treatments. The information should NOT be used in place of visit with your healthcare provider, nor should you disregard the advice of your health care provider because of any information you read in this topic.
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