Why Is My Collarbone Popping?

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Popping sensations in your collarbone are fairly common. You may feel it when you reach certain directions or move your arm and shoulder. You may hear a "pop" or "click."

Often, collarbone popping is a sign of a problem with the bones or joints that make up your shoulder. It may or may not be painful.

This article looks at causes of collarbone popping, when to see a healthcare provider, how it's diagnosed and treated, and how you can cope with it.

a woman holding her collar bone

Gregg Bucken-Knapp / Getty Images

Causes

Knowing some basic shoulder anatomy can help you understand why your collarbone pops. What's called the "shoulder complex" is made up of three bones and several joints. The bones are:

These bones interact in complicated ways. That allows you to move your arms freely, such as when reaching for things. A problem with any of them may lead to collarbone popping.

The joints of the shoulder complex include:

  • The sternoclavicular (SC) joint: This joint connects your collarbone and sternum (breastbone).
  • The acromioclavicular (AC) joint: This joint connects your collarbone and a part of the scapula.
  • The glenohumeral (GH) joint: This is the true shoulder joint and responsible for most movements. It's a ball-and-socket joint including the humerus and part of the scapula.
  • The scapulothoracic joint: Various muscles attach your shoulder blade to your thoracic spine. This isn't a true joint but is involved in some motions.

These four joints attach your shoulder bones to your trunk and allow for arm and shoulder movements.

When you lift your arm, muscles around your shoulder contract and pull the bones in specific directions. This makes the joints glide and slide. Collarbone pops can happen during these motions.

The popping usually occurs at your SC or AC joint. Causes may include:

  • SC joint separation (dislocation)
  • AC joint separation
  • Osteoarthritis in either joint

Separation in your SC joint may cause one collarbone to push forward. You might notice that it sticks out a bit from your breastbone. This can cause abnormal motion that leads to popping and pain when you move your arm.

Sometimes, trauma can make a joint unstable and lead to collarbone popping. Other times, instability is caused by wear and tear or degeneration from conditions like arthritis.

If you have hypermobile joints or lax ligaments, your collarbone may pop without any particular cause. This is more common in younger people and biological females.

If you have collarbone or shoulder popping when you move your arms, and especially if it's painful, tell your healthcare provider. They can help figure out why it's happening.

Recap

Several bones and joints make up the shoulder complex. Problems with any of them can cause collarbone popping. So can trauma, lax ligaments, or hypermobile joints.

When to See a Healthcare Provider

If your collarbone popping is caused by trauma, see your healthcare provider. They can check for a fracture or acute dislocation.

If you can't move your shoulder normally, definitely see a healthcare provider right away.

The SC joint can be the site of infection. Both the AC and SC joints can be involved with inflammatory conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis. Infection and inflammation can lead to joint instability. This may cause:

  • Swelling
  • Redness
  • Severe pain
  • Warmth
  • Fever

If you have any of these symptoms, get urgent medical care.

Diagnosis

A physical exam is the first step in finding out why your collarbone pops. It may involve:

Your healthcare provider may also order imaging studies. These include:

Much of the time, this process uncovers the cause of collarbone popping. That provides a direction for treatment.

Recap

See a healthcare provider for popping caused by trauma, infection, or inflammation. Get urgent help if you can't move the shoulder or have concerning symptoms such as fever or severe pain. Providers diagnose shoulder problems with a physical exam, joint tests, and possibly imaging.

Treatment

Treatment for collarbone popping depends on the cause of the problem. For example, if tight muscles or tissues are responsible, treatment may focus on stretching.

Weak shoulder muscles may also cause popping. If this is the case, strengthening those muscles may be the best treatment. Working closely with a physical therapist is a good idea. They can make sure you're doing the right things for your condition.

Stretches for your shoulder may include:

These stretches gently move your SC, GH, and AC joints, pulling slightly on tight tissues around them. This may restore normal gliding and sliding of your joints and alleviate collarbone popping.

Strengthening exercises for your shoulder may include:

The overall exercise goal for your popping collarbone is to restore normal ROM and strength, and regain normal and proper motion around your shoulder joints.

If trauma is causing your collarbone to pop, you may benefit from immobilization to protect your shoulder joints. Your provider may suggest wearing a sling for a few weeks. It should be short-term use, though.

Wearing a sling for too long can cause a condition called frozen shoulder. This condition involves a severe and painful loss of shoulder ROM. You can avoid it by periodically doing gentle pendulum exercises.

Surgery

You may need surgery for traumatic dislocations, particularly the SC and GH joints. Surgery is also performed for torn ligaments in the AC or SC joint.

Surgery for non-painful collarbone popping is rare. Usually, it is reserved for traumatic and painful cases of SC or AC joint popping.

Surgery may involve using a small wire to properly connect your SC or AC joints. During surgery, your healthcare provider may “clean out” the joint, removing bone spurs and small bits of cartilage.

After surgery, you'll likely wear a sling for several weeks while it heals. You may benefit from a course of rehab to regain ROM, strength, and normal arm function.

Recap

Treatment for collarbone popping depends on the cause. It may involve physical therapy, using a sling, or (for painful popping) surgery and rehabilitation. The goal is to restore strength, function, and range of motion.

Coping

Keep in mind that some episodes of collarbone popping are short-lived. Others may be permanent. If your collarbone popping causes pain and limited function in your arm, see your healthcare provider for a diagnosis and treatment.

Sometimes, sternoclavicular joint or collarbone popping isn't painful and doesn't limit function but is just an annoyance. In these cases, you may have to learn new ways of doing things to avoid the pop. Or you may just get used to it.

As long as you can function fully and painlessly, you should be able to use your arms normally. A little noise coming from the joint doesn't always signal a problem.

Summary

Your shoulder is made up of several bones and joints. Collarbone popping can be caused by problems with any of them. Injury, lax ligaments, or hypermobile joints are also possible causes.

Get medical attention for popping caused by trauma, infection, or inflammation, or if you can't move your shoulder. Shoulder problems can be diagnosed with a physical exam and possibly imaging.

Treatment depends on the cause. Typical treatments include physical therapy, short-term immobilization, or surgery.

If it hurts, get treatment. If not, you may have nothing to worry about.

A Word From Verywell

A new popping sound can make you worry, especially if it's painful. Most causes of painful collarbone popping can be treated. If you don't have any concerning symptoms, though, you likely don't need to do anything about it.

If you have popping plus pain or other concerning symptoms, be sure to get it checked out. You're better off getting started with treatments sooner than later.

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5 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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