Why Your Ankle May Be Popping [And What to Do About It]


Continuous popping or cracking noises in a joint can be caused by restricted mobility, excessive mobility, an arthritic joint, or an acute injury to the cartilage of the joint.

Restricted Mobility

One possibility is that the joint may not be moving properly due to restricted mobility or altered mobility. Lack of mobility or range of motion in a joint forces us to compensate for that lack of mobility by changing how the joint moves or how we use the muscles around the joint.

This compensatory pattern may cause the joint to track improperly, which could cause the surfaces of the joint to pop or crack as it passed over a ridge or prominence that it would normally not pass over or cause the tight muscles/tendons that pass over the joint to snap as they glide over ridges or prominences under greater tension than normal.

Excessive Mobility

The joint may be unstable, allowing for excessive mobility. If this is the case, there is a lack of control over the way the joint moves through a range of motion, or the range is excessive. Popping or cracking can occur once again if the joint surfaces glide over a ridge or prominence that they would normally not pass over due to this lack of control. The muscles or tendons may also snap or pop as they attempt to control the excessive mobility and may be pulled out of position or out of their groove.

Arthritic Joint or Acute Injury to the Cartilage

An arthritic joint or acute injury to the cartilage of the joint can also make noises, such as a pop, grinding, or crunching noise. This is caused by the surfaces of the joint, without the protective covering of cartilage, articulating over one another. Cartilage provides a smooth protective surface for our joints; so as the cartilage wears away, the rough, bony surfaces of the joint are exposed.


So, what can you do about it?

In each of these cases, the goal is to restore the proper mechanics of the joint so that it functions correctly. If the issue is left unresolved, the surrounding area may become inflamed, indicated by pain when your ankle pops or cracks. 

If there is poor mobility, you must first restore mobility with stretching and mobility exercises. A physical therapist may also manipulate or manually mobilize the joint to help restore the mobility.

Once mobility is restored, the motor control or coordination of the muscles surrounding the joint must be restored to allow for the proper guidance of the joint through its full range of motion. From there, the focus should be on strengthening the muscles and tendons around the joint to reinforce the proper mechanics.