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Learn about your elbow popping, including causes, treatment options and remedies. Or get a personalized analysis of your elbow popping from our A.I. health assistant. At Buoy, we build tools that help you know what’s wrong right now and how to get the right care.

Elbow Popping Checker

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Your Elbow Popping May Also be Known as:
Elbow clicking

Elbow Popping Symptoms

Everyone experiences a joint popping or clicking from time to time. Occasional painless sounds normal but if the clicking, popping, and snapping is persistent and accompanied by discomfort or pain, you'll want to see a medical provider for a specific diagnosis. These sounds that joints make are sometimes called crepitus.

Characteristics:

  • Clicking or popping sounds when trying to use the elbow.
  • A locking or catching sensation in the joint.
  • Feeling that the elbow is unstable, wobbly, or may pop out of place.

Who is most often affected by elbow popping symptoms?

  • Athletes in training, especially those who use an overhead throw or swing.
  • Anyone routinely working at physical labor.
  • Older people, who have had many years of wear and tear to the structures inside the elbow.

When are elbow popping symptoms most likely to occur?

  • When pushing yourself upward by your arm, as when rising from a chair.
  • When stretching with your arm above your head.

Is elbow popping serious?

  • Occasional pops or clicks without pain are rarely serious.
  • If the pain becomes chronic without improvement it should be seen by a medical provider because it will interfere with activities of daily living.
  • Severe pain with inability to use the elbow joint can be the sign of a serious injury.

Elbow Popping Causes Overview

Many conditions can cause the symptom of elbow popping. We've listed several different causes here, in approximate order from most to least common:

Trauma:

  • Acute injury, such as falling on an outstretched hand. This can damage the structures of the elbow outright, as well as leave scar tissue if it does not heal properly.
  • Damage from repetitive strain injury (overuse,) especially from overhead arm motions as when playing tennis or baseball.
  • Previous surgery on or around the elbow, which may leave scar tissue.

Cavitation, which is a change in the pressure inside the bursa (the fluid-filled cushions that surround the joints).

  • The pressure builds up through repetitive movement and the pop is heard when it equalizes again. This sort of pop is painless, harmless, and very common.

Inflammation and displacement of the ulnar nerve, which courses through the elbow and down the ulna (the smaller of the two bones in the forearm).

  • If it becomes inflamed, irritated, and swollen through injury or overuse, the long fibers of the nerve can slip in and out of the groove behind the elbow and make a clicking sound.

Scar tissue can tear during a sudden strenuous motion, such as a hard swing with a tennis racket.

  • There will be a pop followed by pain, swelling, and bruising.

Arthritis of the elbow.

  • This is caused by wearing away the protective cartilage at the ends of the upper and lower arm bones, within the elbow joint. Popping may be heard as the bones move and shift against each other, and/or the loose fragments of worn cartilage interfere with movement.

Inflammation of the extensor tendon, which lies on the outside of the elbow joint and allows you to extend your arm straight out to the side.

  • If this tendon becomes swollen, irritated and inflamed through overuse, it may make a popping or clicking sound as it slides over the bone when you move your arm.

Rare and unusual causes:

  • Elbow deformity, possibly congenital and present from birth. The deformity may be mild and only create an occasional pop inside the elbow, or it can be severe enough to interfere with normal use of the joint.

Top 2 Elbow Popping Causes

  1. 1.Ulnar Nerve Entrapment of Elbow

    Ulnar Nerve Entrapment of Elbow is the compression of the ulnar nerve, causing numbness and/or weakness in the hands.

    You should visit your primary care physician. Diagnosis is made by looking at your symptoms and confirmed with a test of the nerves. Treatment depends on severity. If no weakness, splinting and physical therapy. If weakness, surgery to decompress the nerve.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    hand weakness, pain in one hand, numbness in one hand, weakness in one hand, pain in one elbow
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor

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  2. 2.Osteochondritis Dissecans

    At joints where bones meet, bones are covered with a layer of cartilage which provides shock absorbance and lubrication. Osteochondritis dissecans is a condition where a piece of cartilage with a thin layer of bone detach from the larger bone, causing pain.

    You should visit your primary care physician. Conservative therapy is first considered, such as resting the joint, and physical therapy. Surgery is performed if the conservative treatment fails.

    Rarity:
    Rare
    Top Symptoms:
    pain in one knee, knee pain that gets worse during a run, knee stiffness, knee instability, spontaneous knee pain
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor

Elbow Popping Treatments and Relief

Seek immediate elbow popping treatment in the emergency room if:

  • The popping or clicking sounds from the elbow are accompanied by severe pain and great difficulty getting the arm to move at all.

Schedule an appointment for discussions about:

  • Physical therapy for pops and clicks that are painless, but annoying.
  • Physical therapy to aid in recovering normal strength and use of an injured elbow.
  • Being fitted for a brace to help support the injured elbow.
  • Surgery, if more conservative measures are not helping enough.

Elbow popping remedies that you can try at home:

  • Study sports techniques to make sure you are playing and using equipment correctly, so as not to aggravate a previous injury or cause a new one.
  • Use icepacks or cold packs to help reduce any swelling.
  • Use over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as ibuprofen, to ease pain and swelling.

Questions Your Doctor May Ask About Elbow Popping

  • Q.Which of the following describes your physical fitness:
  • Q.Have someone feel for your pulse (at the wrist) on the side of your body that hurts. Now, turn your head to that side. Does the pulse go away? (This is known as the Adson's test.)
  • Q.Turn your head toward the side of your body that is hurting. Lift your head up as someone else pushes down on your head. Does this cause greater pain in your upper body? (This is known as Spurling's test.)
  • Q.How would you explain the cause of your elbow pain?

If you've answered yes to one or more of these questions, check our elbow popping symptom checker.

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Elbow Popping Symptom Checker Statistics

  • People who have experienced elbow popping have also experienced:

    • 9% Elbow Pain
    • 6% Ankle Clicking During Movement
    • 6% Knee That Clicks During Movement
  • People who have experienced elbow popping were most often matched with:

    • 21% Ulnar Nerve Entrapment of Elbow
    • 18% Osteochondritis Dissecans
  • Source: Aggregated and anonymized results from visits to the Buoy AI health assistant (check it out by clicking on “Take Quiz”).

Elbow Popping Checker

Take a quiz to find out why you’re having elbow popping.

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