Snap, Crackle...What's That Popping Sound?

Many of our patients ask about popping noises that come from joints.  Most of these stories describe the ankle and they say something like, “see I can make it pop all the time when I do this.”  This is where they lift up a pant leg and draw a circle with their foot to rotate the ankle and sure enough a pop will occur.  Answering the question of: ‘What’s the popping?’ needs to be carefully evaluated.

The first thing we ask - Does it hurt?  A painful popping is very different than a painless one.  Typically a painless popping at the ankle joint is due to one or two muscle tendons (peroneal tendons) that start in your lower leg and cross the ankle to attach in your foot.  When these tendons get pulled taught they may slip out of their anatomical groove at the back of the outer part of your ankle (peroneal groove of the fibula) or another area a little lower on the side of the heel bone (trochlear process of the calcaneus).  When they slip out, or more likely slip back into place, they make an audible and ‘snap’ or ‘pop’ that is usually also felt.  When this is performed without pain or history of injury to the area it is most likely nothing to worry about.  However, these noises can mean much more if they are associated with pain or injury.

A painful popping is typically associated with a prior injury and may need further investigation.  After tendon injury scar tissue can develop which can cause thickening and prevent it from resting in its normal area allowing it to ‘pop‘ out.  Another possibility is that the popping is from an entirely different source like cartilage, bone, a bad joint, or something else.  Because of the possibilities it is very important to find out the source and then discuss what to do about it. 

At Sole Foot and Ankle Specialists,  we can employ a variety of means to identify the cause of painful popping.  Along with a thorough clinical examination we can use x-ray, CT, MRI, or other means to identify what is causing the sound.  We can then combine these results with your history of injury or activity then decide what needs to be done about it. 

If you or someone you know is experiencing painful or unusual popping, or hopefully not ‘other’  sounds in your foot or ankle we are here to help. Call to schedule an appointment with Dr. Gary Friedlander or Dr. Jay Larson at Sole Foot And Ankle Specialists

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