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What Causes Snapping Hips? Clicking Shoulders?

Do your hips snap, clunk, or click? Each of these noises can come from different things. The most common one I hear (heh, pun intended) is a deep “clunk” in the hip as someone moves their leg into extension, often with their core engaged.


Curious what that actually looks like? In a dead bug position, keeping the small of your back flat to the ground, extend your leg to the ground. Most of my clients who feel that clunk have difficulty keeping their back flat against the ground, feel shaking in their legs and abs as they lower.


What causes this thunking and clicking?


Most often, these noises come from the sound of tight muscles snapping over bony prominences, and even each other. Imagine if you’ve got a bunch of shoe laces, and you’re pulling them loosely over a bumpy surface; they don’t make much noise, right? But if you tension the laces, pull them tight, they’ll start making “snapping” noises as they tension around a bump, and then pass over it.


It is this increased tension in muscles that drives these snapping noises.


So, what does it mean that a muscle is “tight,” or has “tension?”


Tension comes from the brain; when our brain loses connection with our muscles, they become limp and floppy. Tension is reflective of neural drive, and the brain’s opinion of how “Active” a muscle needs to be.


Tension is a measure of how “contracted” the muscle is, or how “on it is.” (This is getting into the gray area of how exactly our muscles contract, which is actually still surprisingly murky; sliding filament theory is still only a theory at the moment).


However, we can all tell when a muscle has tension in it, or not. However, at rest, a muscle should be floppy, and gooey. It’s not being used, so there’s no need for it to be holding tension, unless we happen to be stressed out, have overworked that muscle, or it’s gotten injured– in which case, our body’s first response is to add tension and “tone” to that muscle as a means to protect itself. It just isn’t particularly functional, and has a lot of gnarly side effects.


So, if muscle tension or muscle tone is the cause of this snapping, clicking, and clunking, what do we do about it?


I have a saying at the clinic “Loosen, Lengthen, and Strengthen.” It covers about 80% of the cases I see, of muscle weakness and pain patterns in my clients (I’m a physical therapist; there’s never really a rule that works 100% of the time).


We need to loosen the muscle, reduce it’s tension, and lengthen it, so your body can move with appropriate mechanics, and then we need to strengthen it in this new range. Our body is especially prone to lock muscles down, to make them tight, when they’re weak, which is why the strengthening component is so key. I think we can all relate to that; we stick a lacrosse ball in there, take a hot shower, get a massage, ask our sweetie to rub our shoulders, and we feel great after, but eventually that nagging ache comes back, doesn’t it? If we don’t get you stronger, and change the way you move, it’s going to come right back.


So, you’ve got some snapping, and popping, say in your hip, or in your shoulder?


Snapping in the Hip with Leg Extension


The most common cause of this is a tight and weak iliopsoas, which is a combination of two muscles, the iliacus, and the psoas. Together, they help lift and externally rotate our leg. They’re a key muscle in walking and lower core stability.


We talked about the dead bug exercise, which is a great detection tool, and can be used for treatment!


How does that work?


Assume the dead bug position, keep your lower core engaged, and slightly pull your toes toward your face. From here, thinking about lengthening through your heel, reach your heel down and away from you while keeping your core engaged. It should feel like your lower core and lower abdomen have to work hard to keep your back from popping off the ground, and have to work to control your leg as it extends.


And! Only go as far as you can controlling it, without letting it pop off.


Snapping in the Shoulder with Overhead


There are so many muscles connected in and around the shoulder, that snapping, popping, and clicking can come from a lot of different places. However, one of the most common causes is a tight supraspinatus, a cute little muscle that runs at the top of our scapula. “Supra” as in above, and “spinatus,” as in spine, the spine that runs along the top of our scapula. The supraspinatus helps lift and elevate the humerus, the bone of our arm.


How to test if you’ve got some clicking in your shoulder: Lie on your back, and without letting your ribs come off the ground, or your low back, bring your arm overhead.


Want to know how to find your supraspinatus, and see if it’s tight?


You can put a lacrosse ball in your shoulder, or use a theracane to target this muscle and apply pressure.


First, we have to find this muscle. Start with your other hand, and reach across your body, like you’re going to pat yourself on the back. From here, find the bony ridge of your scapula, the bony wing behind the shoulder. Once you’ve found the ridge, pop off it upwards, towards your neck and traps. From there, push through the meaty upper traps you’ve got, and dig into that little ravine inside the crevice. It should be pretty tender. Explore above the ridge, looking for tender spots, and apply pressure. Try rotating and moving your arm, engaging the muscle and then relaxing it.


Want to know if you’re in the right spot? With your fingers pressing above that bony ridge, try lifting your arm out to the side like a chicken wing. It should pop into your fingers.


Once you’ve released that muscle, see if lifting your arm overhead feels any different!






Still feel like you’ve got clicking, clunking, and funkiness that isn’t going away with these exercises, or doesn't seem to respond the same way?


Give us a call to get scheduled so we can get to the root cause of your problem and resolve it so you can get back to doing the things you love!

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