Q. About two months ago I was playing flag football and reached behind me to grab the ball and someone ran into my arm. I felt a sharp pain and a pop. I went to the urgent care and they took X-rays, which were normal. I was given a sling and told I had a sprain and I should get better in a few days. The pain improved quickly and I felt good most of the time. Sometimes when I try to grab something quickly, however, I feel a snap in my shoulder and pain. After a few minutes I feel fine again. The snapping is not going away and it is annoying. If the X-rays were fine, why am I still having this problem and what should I do?
There are several possible reasons for a painful popping/snapping sensation after a shoulder injury. There are four muscles that come together as a tendon that attach to the ball part of the shoulder. The tendon lets you rotate the shoulder, and is known as the rotator cuff. The long head of the biceps tendon runs from the socket to a tunnel “bicipital groove” between two portions of the rotator cuff.
With your injury, it is likely that the snapping you are feeling is the biceps tendon sliding in and out of its groove. This is frequently associated with an injury to the internal rotator portion of the cuff known as the subscapularis. Other possible causes of this snapping include a labral cartilage tear or an impingement syndrome, where the soft tissues rub between the ball part and the roof. I recommend you see an orthopedic surgeon for an exam and likely an MRI scan. Most of the time surgery is necessary to correct a snapping biceps, subscapularis tear, or symptomatic labral tear.
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Dr. Harlan Selesnick is team physician of the Miami Heat and director of Miami Sports Medicine Fellowship, Doctors Hospital. Send your questions to HarlanS@baptisthealth.net.