It is quite common for everyone to hear a cracking sound around the ankle joint at times during or following a circular motion or rotation of ankle joint. The ankle cracking is associated with feeling of tight ankle joint and often observed following a long walk, a run, or a sprint. Such ankle joint discomfort often is relieved following voluntary cracking of ankle joint. Cracking of the ankle joints not only gives a feeling of relaxation and pleasure but also eases the uncomfortable feeling that comes with a hike, sprint or run.
There are two questions that come to mind about cracking ankles. The first question is why do my ankles crack and the second question is whether it may cause some harm or injury to the ankle joint. The answer to the first question has been delineated in detail below. The answer to the second question suggests Ankle Cracking is not caused by ankle joint dislocation or fracture of bones of the ankle joint. The dislocation and fracture of ankle joint is extremely painful. Most often one of the causes of cracking ankles is lax ligaments, which are supporting the ankle joint.
Cracking Ankle is not caused by any injury nor does it predispose you to any medical conditions. The most cases of cracking ankle are observed in individual suffering with congenital abnormality resulting in lax and fragile ankle joint ligaments and capsule. The fragile and lax ankle joint if ignored may result in ankle dislocation in few cases. Other than this, there is no cause for worry if you have Cracking Ankles.
Cracking Ankles: Why Do My Ankles Crack?
Now we go into the details of what actually produces the cracking sound when the ankle is rotated or moved a certain way. For this, we need to understand ankle joint anatomy. The ankle joint is also known as synovial joint. The inside of the joint is covered by a thick membrane known as synovial membrane. The synovial membrane secretes synovial fluid. The synovial fluid is present within ankle joint and acts as a lubricant. The synovial fluid prevents the bone from rubbing against each other and prevents friction as well as sliding between the bones which are forming ankle joint. The synovial fluid volume is often increased in patient suffering with rheumatoid arthritis and other inflammatory arthritis.
Coming to the cracking sound, when we rotate a tender or lax ankle, the space between the bones gets expanded at one end and shrinks at the opposite end. The synovial fluid rushes in to fill the enlarge gap. The movement of the synovial fluid in this gap is what produces cracking Sound.
There are few other causes described in medical literature resulting in "Cracking Ankles" when ankle joint is moved or rotated. These causes are:
- The cracking sound from the ankle occurs when the opposing bones of ankle joints are moved apart from each other, which creates a gap and pressure change resulting in formation of bubbles within synovial fluid. This bubble when collapses or busts causes the cracking sound.
- Another cause for Cracking Ankles is believed to be over stretching of ligaments that surround the synovial membrane which produce the cracking sound.
The scientific data is not convincible to evaluate definitive cause of Crackling Ankle since there are very few cases observed in any geographical location. The above discussed causes of cracking sound in ankle are evaluated by ultrasound and radiological studies of patient suffering with Crackling Ankle. The most published data suggests the cracking sound is produced by the synovial fluid that gushes to fill the gap caused by stretching or rotation of ankle joint.
Can Cracking Ankles Lead to an Injury?
As discussed above, Cracking Ankles is nothing but the synovial fluid producing the sound. There is no involvement of the bones or ligaments producing crackling sound. Hence the chances of soft tissue or bone injury is rare. However, people are prone for serious injury who have genetically weak bones or lax ankle joint in presence of ankle joint cracking. The serious ankle injuries in these cases are observed following abnormal twist or turn of the ankle joint. The severe injuries observed with cracking ankles are dislocations or subluxation with fracture of ankle joint. Serious ankle injury is often caused by twist and turn of lax ankle joint during jogging or rapid walking. This sort of injury is common in athletes who do gymnastics or sprinting which puts a lot of pressure on the ankles.
Thus, it is recommended that people who have a history of lax or weak joints should avoid habitually cracking their ankles by rotating it several times so as to prevent any injury down the road. People with lax and weak joints can strengthen their joints by working with their trainer or a skilled physiotherapist who can work on their joints and give them exercises to strengthen the ankle and other joints to prevent any injury due to cracking ankles.
To summarize, individual suffering with frequent cracking ankle should consult specialist and evaluate joint weakness and laxity. Individual suffering with weak and lax ankle joint should avoid cracking ankle joint out of habit. The individual suffering with cracking ankle joint disease associated with rheumatoid arthritis or osteoarthritis should avoid twisting or hyper movements of ankle joint. Individual suffering with lax or weak joints should avoid cracking ankle at all the time.
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