Snapping Scapula Syndrome

My scapula pops when I move my arm

If you feel that your scapula (shoulder blade) makes a popping, grinding or snapping sensation when moving the arm, you might be suffering from Snapping Scapula Syndrome.

What is Snapping Scapula Syndrome?

The shoulder blade (scapula) articulates against the chest as it is part of the ‘scapulothoracic joint’. Due to inflammation or variants in shape the scapula can produce cracking or clicking sensation whilst moving against the chest. The syndrome can also happen if the muscles connecting scapula and chest weaken and produce an imbalance and uneven joint motion.

What is Scapulothoracic Bursitis?

A bursa is a paper thin layer fluid captured inside a bag that serves as a lubrication film. There are many spots in the human body where a bursa is present. There is also a large bursa between the scapula and chest that is part of the scapulothoracic joint. When a bursa gets inflamed, it grows thicker and in the scapulothoracic joint can cause snapping scapula syndrome.

How can Snapping Scapula Syndrome be diagnosed?

The diagnosis can be made clinical. Usually the patient is able to demonstrate a visible flick of the scapula when raising the arm above shoulder level. Often this is accompanied by a cracking sound. X-rays and CT scans can show abnormalities in the bony architecture of the scapula and MRI can image inflamed soft tissues such as scapulothoracic bursitis.

What treatment is available for Snapping Scapula Syndrome?

Treatment depends on the underlying pathology. Muscular imbalance and bursitis are treated with physiotherapy. If theses fail to improve the condition surgery is an option. Surgery is more often required to address anatomical variances in the bony architecture of the scapula.

Surgery for Snapping Scapula Syndrome

The surgery can be carried out via arthroscopy (keyhole surgery). During this procedure the inflamed bursa is removed - it will re-grow - and often the inner upper corner of the scapula is resected. this surgery can be carried out as a day surgery and no overnight stay in the hospital is required.

Preparing for surgery for Snapping Scapula Syndrome

Prior to the procedure, we will arrange for one preconditioning physiotherapy session where we fit a shoulder immobiliser, explain some simple exercises and give you an ice bladder with icing instructions. If required we will also arrange for a bulk billed pre-admission clinic at the hospital. This is run by a specialist anaesthetist who will gather information and request investigations that are required for safe anaesthesia. Our reception staff will advise of costs, hospital and admission details.

Recovery from surgery for Snapping Scapula Syndrome

After the procedure your arm will be placed in a shoulder immobiliser and we will start icing immediately. You can stop wearing the sling as soon as you are comfortable and you can range the shoulder. Physiotherapy will be required for a few weeks to avoid joint stiffness and promote recovery. Overall recovery can take up to eight weeks.