Snap crackle pop! If your ankles crack when walking, you’re not alone. Ankle cracking is very common. You might notice popping sounds in your ankle after a long run or walk, or while simply walking around your home.
Should you be alarmed? Can ankle popping or cracking harm your health? And why is it that ankle clicking sound happening in the first place?
Here are some of the reasons why your ankles, and other joints, may crack, and whether or not you need to worry about it.
Why Do My Ankles Crack?
To understand why your ankles crack, it helps to understand a bit about the anatomy of your joints. The ankle joints, also known as synovial joints, are encased in a thick membrane called the synovial membrane. This membrane secretes synovial fluid, which lubricates your ankle joints. Synovial fluid is extremely important because it helps keep your bones from rubbing against one another.1
When you rotate your ankle, the space between your bones changes. These spaces get larger at one end and smaller at the other. Synovial fluid moves toward the larger space.2
The movement of this fluid is what causes that “snap, crackle pop” sound.
There’s another reason why you might hear that ankle cracking sound. Sometimes, a pressure change happens when the bones in the ankle joints move. This can cause bubbles to form within the synovial fluid. When the bubble pops, you might notice your ankle clicking.3
And there is a scientific term for the sound your ankles and other joints sometimes make. It’s called “crepitus.” Certainly, the sound can be annoying – but is it actually harmful? 4
Should I Worry About Ankle Popping?
In most cases, no, you shouldn’t worry if you experience ankle popping or ankle clicking. Again, synovial fluid is the most common reason why your ankles crack when walking. Your bones and ligaments don’t produce that sound, in most cases.
There are, however, some cases where ankle cracking is a sign that your ankles are weak or unstable. If this is the case, then your ankle will be more prone to injury, including sprains, fractures, or dislocation. If you’ve been diagnosed with weak ankles, you should try to avoid ankle cracking whenever possible. Specifically, you should keep from rotating your ankle so that it cracks. This will help reduce the chances that the joints will be injured in the long run.5Talk to your doctor about strengthening exercises you can try at home or at the gym if your ankles crack when walking on a regular basis.
What About Cracking in Other Joints?
Ankle cracking isn’t the only common noise that your joints might make. Just about everyone has had a knee or shoulder pop at one time or another, or heard a clicking noise come from our fingers. While this type of noise can be troubling, again, it’s usually not a sign of any sort of problem. As long as it isn’t accompanied by any swelling or pain, you should be fine.6
Ankle cracking is typically associated with the movement of synovial fluid.
But why do your other bones crack? The sounds coming from other joints usually have different causes. For example, if you hear cracking or clicking sounds from your neck on a regular basis, you might have a tight muscle. When this happens, your muscle rubs nearby bones and causes friction. The sounds could also be due to tendons rubbing over bones.7
Plenty of people crack their knuckles on a regular basis. The sound you hear when your knuckles crack is due to the compression of nitrogen bubbles that form between the spaces of your joints, in your synovial fluid. The noise occurs due to gas escaping from the fluid.8
But let’s dispel a couple of myths regarding knuckle cracking. One, you will not make your knuckles bigger by cracking them, and two, you won’t develop arthritis because you’re a regular knuckle cracker. There is absolutely no scientific evidence backing either of these two misconceptions. As a matter of fact, there is evidence that refutes one of them.
Researchers conducted a study of 200 people. One group cracked their knuckles regularly, while the other did not. According to the results, the people who didn’t crack their knuckles were just as likely to develop osteoarthritis as those who did.9
Exercises to Strengthen Joints
Even if the cracking of joints is, in most cases, considered relatively harmless, you still want to make sure your joints are as strong as possible for as long as possible. Exercise can help you find relief if you have sore joints, and it may be able to help strengthen them over time. Here are several different types of exercises you can perform to stay healthy as the years go by:
Walking is one of the easiest exercises you can do. It doesn’t require a gym membership or expensive equipment, and you can do it at just about any time of the day or night. One study compared a group of participants with joint problems who walked three or four times a week with another group that did not walk at all. The group of walkers, according to the results, saw an improvement in their feelings of well-being compared to the other group.10 Another study shows that walking could help improve the functioning of troublesome joints.11
This is another great exercise for people suffering from joint issues. Researchers conducted a four-month study involving two groups of women with health problems affecting their joints. One group performed water-based exercises, while the other performed aerobic exercises on land. The results showed that the swimmers reported more substantial improvements in joint pain and other discomfort compared to the non-swimmers.12
Pilates is designed to help improve muscle control as well as strength, and it may also help people dealing with joint pain. A study showed that children with joint problems who participated in a Pilates program reported less pain than another group of participants who performed conventional exercises.13
Many other types of exercises can help strengthen your joints and ease joint issues. Range-of-motion exercises, such as rolling your shoulders or raising your arms, can help relieve stiffness. Weight training exercises can increase muscle strength, providing more support for your joints. Endurance exercises, such as bicycling, can give you more energy.14
As effective as an exercise program may be, however, you should never jump into any sort of workout regimen without speaking to your doctor first.
The Bottom Line
Ankle cracking, knuckle cracking, or other strange noises that come from your joints can be annoying. In the vast majority of cases, these noises don’t signify any health problem. However, if you do develop any sort of issue with your joints, getting on a regular exercise program could help relieve your discomfort. Time to get moving!