Popping ankles are those that pop, click, or crack with movement. This might occur when walking or standing up. Popping ankles are usually harmless, but they can sometimes be a symptom of an underlying medical condition.

The medical term for this popping sound is crepitus. It is usually the result of gas in the joint fluid or tendons moving.

This article covers what causes a popping sound in the ankle and how to treat it.

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Popping sounds from joints are common and usually not a cause for concern.

The main symptom of popping ankles is a cracking or snapping sound when moving the ankle or applying pressure to it.

For example, the ankle might pop when standing up or walking. For some people, the popping might occur with any movement. In other cases, however, it might only happen occasionally.

Ankle popping does not usually occur with other symptoms. However, it can be a symptom of an underlying medical condition. If this is the case, other symptoms — such as pain and swelling — might also occur.

In many cases, ankle popping is not a cause for concern. It is common to hear these sounds from the joints.

The popping sound can be the result of nitrogen bubbles in the fluid that lines the joint. Another possible cause is tendons or muscles moving over the joint. Tight muscles and tendons can make this more likely.

Sometimes, the popping sound might occur when performing specific movements. For example, some people hear ankle popping while walking and running. This can be a symptom of tight muscles or tendons. It can also occur when the cartilage wears away with age.

If the popping sound occurs alongside other symptoms, it could be a symptom of an underlying health condition. These include:

  • Osteochondritis dissecans: This is a condition wherein a small segment of bone separates and causes the cartilage in the joints to wear away. This can cause a cracking sound and is common in the ankles.
  • Peroneal tendon injury: The peroneal tendons run through the ankle toward the foot. Sustaining an injury to these tendons might cause a popping sound in the ankle.
  • Ankle osteoarthritis: This condition causes joint deterioration, which leads to pain and stiffness.

Strengthening the muscles around the ankles might help reduce popping sounds. Some ankle-strengthening exercises include:

Calf raises

Performing calf raises will strengthen the calf muscles and reduce pressure on the ankles. To perform a calf raise:

  1. Stand on a raised platform or sturdy chair. Stand with the front half of the foot on the surface and the heels hanging off, behind the body.
  2. Rise up onto the toes, using the calves to drive the body upward.
  3. Gently allow the heels to fall back down, just below the ledge.
  4. Repeat this several times.

Ankle circles

Performing ankle circles will help improve mobility in the area. To perform an ankle circle:

  1. Sit with the legs stretched out in front of the body. Have one leg raised on a platform or stool, with the ankle hanging off.
  2. Rotate the foot to draw circles with the toes.
  3. Repeat this several times.

Towel stretches

Performing towel stretches can help relieve tight ankles. To perform a towel stretch:

  1. Sit with the legs straight out in front of the body.
  2. Wrap a towel around the middle of the foot and toes.
  3. Gently pull the towel backward, toward the body, to stretch the foot.
  4. Hold the stretch for 20 seconds.
  5. Repeat this several times.

In most cases, there is no need to treat popping ankles. They are usually harmless. Regularly stretching the surrounding muscles and staying physically active should help.

However, treatment may be necessary if the popping is due to an underlying health condition.

For ankle injuries, resting is important to allow healing. A doctor might also recommend anti-inflammatory medication, such as ibuprofen, to help with the pain.

Some cases of osteochondritis dissecans will heal on their own over time. However, other cases may require supportive gear, such as crutches. Crutches will relieve pressure and help the healing process.

Physical therapy can also help. This might involve exercises and stretches to reduce tightness and increase mobility in the area. One 2017 review suggests that exercise therapy can help treat ankle injuries.

If treatment is not working, a doctor may recommend undergoing surgery to treat the problem. This might be necessary if there is tendon or muscle damage that will not heal.

In most cases, ankle popping is not a cause for concern. Seeing a doctor is not usually necessary when the popping is due to tight muscles or tendons.

However, it is important to see a doctor if there are other symptoms alongside the popping. For example, look out for:

  • pain
  • swelling in the ankle
  • difficulty walking

It is particularly important to see a doctor if these symptoms start to occur after sudden trauma, such as sustaining a sporting injury.

Popping ankles are rarely a cause for concern. Some causes, such as gas in the joint and tendons or muscles moving over the joint, are usually harmless.

In some cases, however, the popping might be a symptom of an underlying health condition, such as an injury to the tendon. In these cases, there will usually be other symptoms, such as pain and swelling.

When ankle popping occurs alongside other symptoms, it may be advisable to see a doctor.