Why do my ankles pop?

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National Athletic Trainers' Association
Administration Specialist

This popping or grinding that you hear is called crepidus. There are two major tendons on the outside (lateral) portion of the leg. They are the peroneus brevis and longus. They run through a sheath that keeps them locked into place. If this sheath becomes damaged, the tendons can snap out of place and then return to their original resting spot.

Popping and snapping can be caused by a few different problems. It could be soft tissue (most likely a tendon, ligament or muscle) that has been damaged or injured in some way and has become larger than the space around it allows. This could cause it to rub up against a bone, producing the snapping or popping sound you hear. 

It could also be articular cartilage that has become torn up or has broken off completely from the bone. Articular cartilage acts like the brake pads in your car, except it’s for bones. It protects bones from rubbing on each other, and over time can become worn down, or even damaged. If the articular cartilage catches on the bone or breaks away and is stuck between two bones, it could cause a snap or pop to be heard along with a feeling of catching, locking or giving way. Generally, popping and snapping is not normal, and it may be necessary to visit a physician or orthopedist who can help you figure out what the problem is and how to treat it. 

If pain is associated with these noises, you should consult a medical professional.

This answer provided for NATA by Kathryn J. Larko, MPA, ATC, CES, as well as the Eastern University Athletic Training Education Program.

Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD
Cardiologist (Heart Specialist)

If your ankles pop painlessly, you probably don't have a health problem, but painful ankle popping often signifies a more serious condition. In this video, Dr. Oz, Dr. Mike Clark and Dr. Vonda Wright discuss what ankle pain could mean for your body.

Ankles can snap for a number of reasons, but shifting tendons are among the most common. In this video, Jared Salinsky, DO, an orthopedic surgeon with Regional Medical Center Bayonet Point, explains this and other causes of ankle snapping.

Dr. Paul J. Switaj, MD
Orthopedic Surgeon

That ankle popping can be quite concerning. Watch this video with Paul Switaj, MD, from Reston Hospital Center to learn what causes random popping in the joints.

Dr. Conan R. Parke, DPM
Podiatrist (Foot Specialist)

Most of the time ankles pop because of tendons snapping back into place around the ankle, says Conan Parke, DPM, from MountainView Hospital. Watch this video to learn more.

Dr. Aaron K. Mates, MD
Orthopedic Surgeon

Aaron Mates, MD, from Medical Center of Trinity explains why some people’s ankles pop while walking. Watch this video to learn more.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.