When you hear and feel popping sounds along your shoulder, you may be suffering from Snapping Scapula Syndrome. In this article, we will discuss this condition and what treatment is available for you. We will also discuss snapping scapula syndrome exercises you will need to do as part of the treatment and recovery.

What is Snapping Scapula Syndrome?

Snapping Scapula Syndrome - X=Rays


Snapping scapula syndrome is also known as scapulothoracic bursitis. It is a condition where an individual feels the snapping, popping, grinding, and grating of the bones and tissue in the shoulder area when lifting objects or moving his/her arm.

These sounds originate from the scapulothoracic joint which is in the area where the scapula rests against the chest wall.

What are Snapping Scapula Syndrome Symptoms?

  1. Snapping, popping, grinding, or grating sound or sensation in the scapula area when lifting the arm
  2. Pain in the back or top of the shoulder when shrugging or lifting the arm overhead
  3. Difficulty lifting the arm overhead due to pain or weakness in the scapula area
  4. Feeling weakness in the arm
  5. Some patients may feel a bump under the surface of the scapula
  6. For some patients, it may be very painful and they may not be able to move their shoulder

What causes Snapping Scapula Syndrome?

  1. Incorrect posture
  2. Weakness in the shoulder area
  3. Nerve damage in the shoulder area
  4. Neck problems
  5. Shoulder joint problems
  6. Inflammation caused by repetitive activities that involve throwing a ball or reaching overhead
  7. Prolonged inactivity which muscles to shrink and atrophy. Because the scapula is near the ribs, the bones rub up against each other due to the lack of robust tissue. Sound is produced when the bones rub up together.
  8. Incorrect sports training such as training without enough prior strengthening or overtraining
  9. Change in the alignment/contour of the bones of the scapulothoracic joint caused by an unhealed fractured rib or scapula.
  10. Having abnormal bumps or curves on the upper edge of the scapula can produce a snapping and grinding sound.
  11. Rearrangement of the bone structure caused by the dislocation of the shoulder joint
  12. In rare cases, tumors

How is Snapping Scapula Syndrome Diagnosed?

When you experience snapping scapula symptoms, you need to consult your doctor as soon as possible so he/she can rule out other shoulder problems and you can begin treatment for snapping scapula syndrome.

When you visit your doctor, he will check your medical history by asking if you have had similar problems in the past. He may also ask about any injuries you may have had that damaged your scapula or ask if you participate in activities that require repetitive shoulder movements.


Your doctor will do a thorough physical examination and check the alignment of the scapula. After the examination, your doctor may want to do more precise testing via an X-ray, CT (computerized tomography) scan or MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) study.

What Types of Snapping Scapula Syndrome Treatments are Available?

When your doctor confirms that you have snapping scapula syndrome symptoms, treatment options will depend on the severity of the condition. The most common methods of treatment are non-surgical:

  1. Prescribing NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) such as ibuprofen or aspirin.
  2. Rest the affected area.
  3. Refrain from lifting your arm over your head or making movements that will lead to pain.
  4. Don’t slouch when sitting or standing. Always remain upright.
  5. Apply cold compress around the scapula for 15 to 20 minutes every 2 hours.
  6. Consult a physical therapist regarding snapping scapula syndrome exercises that can help in your treatment.

Why do You Need a Physical Therapist?

A Physical Therapist has the training and experience to design a specific treatment program that will help accelerate your recovery.

Your Physical Therapist can help:

  • Reduce your pain and discomfort

Your physical therapist can help reduce your pain and other symptoms through the use of different types of treatments and technologies including ultrasound, electrical stimulation, laser, taping, ice, heat, snapping scapula syndrome massage therapy, and recovery exercises.

  • Increase your strength and accelerate your recovery

Your therapist will teach you specific exercises that will help you restore your strength and help you heal faster than you are likely to do on your own.

  • Improve motion

Your therapist will provide specific treatments to help restore normal movement to your shoulder, spine, and neck. This may start with gentle motions of your arm, shoulder, neck, and scapula which will progress to active stretches and exercises that you can later do on your own.

  • Improve flexibility

Patients with snapping scapula syndrome often have tight muscles in the chest, neck, and shoulder. If your therapist finds this is true in your case, she may apply snapping scapula syndrome massage therapy to help loosen and stretch your muscles and she will teach you how to gently stretch them on your own.

  • Return to normal day-to-day activities

Before the actual treatment, your physical therapist will ask you what your goals are and use them to set your work and/or home-life recovery goals. The treatment program that your physical therapist will design will help you reach your goals in the fastest, safest, and most effective way possible.

  • Prevent future injury

Your therapist will give you tips on what activities to avoid and provide you with a home exercise program that will help strengthen and stretch the muscles around your shoulder and arm. Doing these will help prevent future injury.

  • Provide you with a post-surgery recovery program

In rare cases, snapping scapular stabilization surgery may be needed. If you undergo surgery, your physical therapist will provide you with a post-surgery recovery program which you will follow weeks after your surgery. The program, just like other rehabilitation programs, will help reduce your pain, regain strength, and return to normal activities in the safest and fastest way possible.

What Snapping Scapula Syndrome Exercises are Included in the Treatment?

Snapping Scapula Syndrome Treatment aims to improve the patient’s muscle strength and balance, address poor posture, and strengthen the patient’s core.

Some exercises that your therapist will teach you include:

Vigor Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation provides Snapping Scapula Syndrome treatment, excellent care, and patient-centered service. We help our patients eliminate pain, avoid surgery, improve function and quality of life.

If you have questions about our treatments or if you want to book an appointment, please feel free to contact us.