I Hear a Crackling, Popping Sound in My Shoulder. What Exactly is Snapping Scapula Syndrome?

Dear Dr. Millett,

I hear a constant crackling sound in my shoulder and upper back and it hurts often. I have been hearing about snapping scapula syndrome. What is that?

Snapping scapula syndrome, also known as scapulocostal syndrome, scapulothoracic syndrome, snapping scapula, and scapulothoracic bursitis (ST bursitis), is explained as a painful popping, cracking, or grinding in the scapula (shoulder blade – back portion of the shoulder) and downwards towards the backside of the ribs. The cause of snapping scapula is really unknown but may be due to a muscle imbalance. This causes both the snapping sound and the associated pain.

Common treatments for Snapping Scapula Syndrome are:

• Pain Relievers

• Cortisone Injections

• Arthroscopic Shoulder Surgery

The syndrome is often misdiagnosed and is not well understood by many doctors. If you suspect you may have snapping scapula syndrome, you should discuss this with your current physician or, even better, a specialist who is familiar with the diagnosis and treatment, t will be important to decide whether the severity of the pain and other symptoms warrant surgical treatment,

For many patients, I am able to correct this condition using an arthroscopic surgery to remove the inflamed bursa and any offending bone from the scapula. We have now performed many of these surgeries and have ongoing research on the cause, treatment and outcomes for patients with snapping scapula. The surgery is a minimally invasive surgery with two small incisions and a one-night hospital stay. For many patients recovery is very quick with immediate pain relief and alleviation of the grinding sensation following surgery. As always, you and your doctor will need to decide which solution is best for your specific problem.