As an ankle specialist, I am always getting asked questions about noisey ankle joints. Patients have related clicking, popping, cracking, creaking in their joints at some point with others hearing it more frequently.
Usually if you are young and healthy and you’re experiencing occasional painless cracking, popping, or clicking, it’s nothing serious to worry about. Many times these noises happen when the fluid that lubricates the joint releases pressure caused by tight muscles. This usually will happen after a period of inactivity.
If the ankle joint clicking or popping is happening more often – such as while walking or running, it can be a sign that the Peroneal Tendon (which is on the outside of the joint) is either rubbing against the ankle bones or that it is subluxed or loose. This can eventually cause injury of the tendon so it is useful to catch it early. Many times this may happen after an ankle sprain.
Other times cracking joints may be an indication that osteoarthritis is developing. Osteoarthritis is basically normal wear and tear that occurs in joints. It is common to have mild wear and tear but if you are experiencing pain or swelling associated with the popping or cracking then it is a sign of degenerative joint disease and you should see a doctor immediately.
Many people, especially those who have sprained their ankle in the past, tend to develop early onset osteoarthritis. This is due to loosening of the joint capsule which allows for malalignment of the joint. When the joint isn’t aligned properly the cartilage that protects the joints will wear down and cause pain.
An easy way to prevent early onset arthritis in the ankle joint is to make sure that your foot is in a proper neutral position. This will protect your ankle and consequently the knee joint as it will assure better alignment in your lower extremities.