Although it may sound scary, ankle cracking isn’t necessarily a sign to worry about. Often, ankle cracking is normal and, fortunately, harmless.
There’s a minor chance ankle popping can signify an underlying condition like a sprain or tendon damage, but that’s not generally the case. Ankle cracking or popping when rotating can be a common occurrence for some people.
However, this doesn’t mean you should ignore ankle cracking altogether. You should monitor and assess whether you experience pain elsewhere or any other symptoms associated with the ankle popping (for instance, deep pain that could be a sign of a stress fracture). Understanding your recent history also helps – be extra careful if you’ve experienced a recent injury or trauma.
Whether severe or a non-issue, we recommend brushing up on the possible reasons your ankle cracks when rotating. Read more in our comprehensive guide below.
Gas bubble release
The most common cause of ankle cracks when rotating is cavitation. When you rotate your ankle, the movement can cause tiny gas bubbles to form and collapse within the synovial fluid that lubricates the joint. This sudden collapse of gas bubbles can produce an audible cracking or even popping sound. Ankle cracking in this context is normal and harmless.
Ligament or tendon movement
Ankle cracks when cracking can also be due to the movement of ligaments or tendons over bony structures in the ankle joint. They may produce a popping sensation or sound as they shift during rotation.
Sometimes, a tendon can snap over a bony prominence in the ankle, leading to a popping sensation or sound. This typically occurs due to repetitive movements or increased physical activity.
Scar tissue or adhesions
Past injuries or trauma to the ankle may create scar tissue or adhesions around the joint. These tissues may stretch or release during ankle rotation, causing a cracking noise.
Ankle cracking can be associated with joint instability. If the ligaments supporting the ankle are lax or weakened, the bones may move more than usual during rotation, leading to a popping sensation.
Synovial cysts are fluid-filled sacs that can develop within the ankle joint. These cysts may cause cracking or popping sensations when they move or change position during ankle rotation.
In rare cases where there is existing significant wear and tear in the ankle joint, bone surfaces may rub against each other during movement. This results in cracking sounds. Be careful with bone-on-bone friction; it’s a recipe for developing bone spurs, which are calcium deposits that build up over time into outgrowths.
How do I know when ankle cracking is severe?
In most cases, ankle cracking during rotation is benign and not a cause for concern. However, we recommend seeing a professional if you experience pain, swelling, or instability along with the cracking or other concerning symptoms accompanying the cracking. They can thoroughly evaluate and provide appropriate advice or treatment based on the underlying cause.
How do I prevent or reduce ankle cracking?
To reduce the occurrence of ankle cracking and maintain ankle health, you can consider the following preventive measures:
- Regularly perform ankle exercises to strengthen the muscles supporting the joint.
- Warm up properly before physical activity to prepare the ankles for movement.
- Avoid excessive or forceful rotation of the ankles, especially if it causes pain or discomfort.
- Wear appropriate footwear that provides support and cushioning for the ankles.