Your joints can make disconcerting noises at the worst of times, like when you're trying to do something good for your body by exercising. But don't let it derail you.
Unless you feel a pop in your elbow followed by pain or notice swelling in your elbow joint, it isn't likely to cause problems. It can often be helped by warming up properly and stretching.
Why Joints 'Pop'
Joints pop for a variety of reasons. The sound your knuckles make when you crack them is due to gases in the synovial fluid that lubricates your joints escaping from the joint capsule. As you get older, you may lose some of the cartilage that covers the bones; rough bone surfaces rubbing together can cause cracking or popping noises.
When doing repetitive exercises like push-ups, however, the most likely cause of a popping sound is tight muscles rubbing over the bone, or tendons rubbing over the bone.
An elbow joint that pops during push-ups is common, normal and generally not anything to worry about. If there's pain, swelling or both, however, it's a sign that you have an injury. In that case, you should cease doing push-ups and consult your doctor.
Stop the Pop
If there's no pain or swelling, but your elbow pops during push-ups, there are a few things you can do that may help stop or diminish the popping sound.
Warm up properly: Warming up prepares the muscles for activity. It can help loosen up tight muscles and tendons around the elbow that might be rubbing over bone and causing the popping noise. Jog on the treadmill or do some jumping jacks in place for a few minutes before doing push-ups. Once you break a light sweat, your body is ready for more intense activity.
Stretch: After you warm up, do a few gentle stretches for your arms, especially your biceps, triceps and forearms, to lengthen the muscles that connect to your elbow. You can do a behind-the-head triceps stretch, take the arm across the body to stretch the triceps and shoulders, or put your palm on the wall and turn your body away from the wall to target the biceps.
Shift position: In some cases, simply tweaking your push-up position slightly may stop the popping. Try moving your elbows in or out just a tiny bit to see if you can change the way your muscles and tendons track over the bone. Sometimes just one small change to your body position can make a big difference.
Shorten range of motion: If you elbow tendon pops when doing push-ups, you might find some relief if you shorten your range of motion. Lower down half-way, rather than allowing your chest to touch the floor.
Decrease pressure through the joint: Try modified push-ups if your elbow pops during push-ups. Reduce the amount of pressure on your arms by performing push-ups on your knees or elevating your upper body on a sturdy surface.