The elbow is one of the most complicated joints in your body. It is crucial to performing day-to-day activities, and any problems can drastically impact your quality of life. Likewise, elbow-related injuries can make it difficult to work, drive and complete even the simplest tasks.

As one of the largest joints in the body, the elbow connects the bones of the forearm (radius and ulna) to the upper arm bone (humerus) through a network of ligaments, tendons and muscles. But if your elbow keeps popping, you might be concerned that something is seriously wrong.

Unhappy woman massaging her elbow at home on the couch.

Occasional popping or clicking sounds in the elbow are common, especially if you are an athlete, perform heavy labor, or are older. While painless elbow popping is simply air moving through joints, chronic, consistent popping and cracking sounds might be a sign of something worse. When the clicking, popping, or snapping is persistent and accompanied by discomfort or pain, you should see an orthopedic specialist to learn why.

At EmergeOrtho—Triangle Region, we understand these concerns and are here to provide advanced treatments that help you Emerge Stronger, Healthier, and Better. Our specialists believe in a conservative approach and minimally invasive solutions that can help treat elbow popping.

Elbow Popping: What Is It?

Your elbow is a mobile joint, and you use it all the time––more often than you think. In those joints are fluid-filled sacs, and when you switch positions suddenly, it can cause cavitation. Sudden movements cause the pressure and volume in those sacs to change, releasing gas bubbles and creating a popping or cracking sound.

Almost everyone experiences a joint pop occasionally, and it is usually harmless. If mild pain accompanies the popping, you can treat it with over-the-counter anti-inflammatories, ice, and rest. But if pain persists or worsens despite your at-home care, you may need further medical treatment.

What Are Some Trauma-Related Causes of Elbow Popping?

If your elbow clicking symptoms are trauma-related, it might be due to one of these causes:

  • Acute injury: Falling on an outstretched hand can damage the structures of the elbow outright, as well as leave scar tissue if it does not heal properly.
  • Repetitive strain injury (overuse): Damage from this type of injury is especially common among athletes who make overhead arm motions from playing tennis or baseball.
  • Previous surgery on or around the elbow: This may leave scar tissue.

Other possible causes of the popping noise may not be related to the elbow joint but rather to the tendons not sliding with motion as they should. In this instance, the tendon gets stuck, and when it moves to where it should be, it creates a popping noise.

When To See A Specialist

If symptoms of elbow popping are not improving or are getting worse, consult with a specialist. Your doctor may ask the following questions or perform the following tests concerning your elbow popping:

  • Feeling for your pulse on the side of your body that is suffering from elbow pain. Now, turn your head to that side. Does the pulse go away? (This is known as the Adson’s test.)
  • Turning your head toward the side of your body that is hurting, then lifting your head as your doctor pushes down on your head. Does this cause greater pain in your upper body? (This is known as Spurling’s test.)
  • Bending your elbow to gauge whether symptoms worsen.
  • Bending your pinky finger to determine whether you can easily move it toward your ring finger.

A plan designed around how best to treat your specific condition can include:

  • Physical therapy (PT): This can help you learn proper techniques or exercises to help manage pops and clicks that are painless but annoying. PT also allows you to recover your normal strength and use of an injured elbow.
  • A brace: Being fitted for a brace can help support the injured elbow.
  • Surgery: This is if more conservative measures are not helping enough.

State-of-the-Art Elbow Popping Solutions at EmergeOrtho

EmergeOrtho provides specialized expertise, state-of-the-art diagnostic tools, and comprehensive care for a wide range of elbow and arm conditions, from simple injuries to complex reconstructions. Our medical team includes physicians who are board-certified and fellowship-trained in the latest non-surgical and surgical techniques. While some elbow and arm injuries are not serious, they can cause a lot of pain. In all cases, our goal is to get you relief and restore your movement so you can get back to your active lifestyle.

Request an appointment with an elbow & arm specialist at EmergeOrtho today to discuss your options for eliminating pain and restoring elbow function. You can also call us any time at (919) 220-5255.

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