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Elbow Cracks From Working Out

author image Jessica Lietz
Jessica Lietz has been writing about health-related topics since 2009. She has several years of experience in genetics research, survey design, analysis and epidemiology, working on both infectious and chronic diseases. Lietz holds a Master of Public Health in epidemiology from The Ohio State University.
Elbow Cracks From Working Out
A man is training his biceps in the gym. Photo Credit: Pekic/iStock/Getty Images

Snapping, cracking and popping are noises you might expect to hear from your morning bowl of cereal, but not during or after a workout. Most of the time, cracking sounds from your elbow are simply normal sounds associated with movement. Cracking elbows usually do not require treatment, but if it is accompanied by pain or swelling, seek medical evaluation before you resume exercise.

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Cracks and Pops

When working out, you might hear just one elbow crack or pop or several in succession. Other joints, such as your ankles, knees and neck, might also make cracking or popping noises during a workout. Your elbow might feel stiff or “locked up” before the cracking noise occurs and then normal after the cracking noise stops. In some cases, the cracking noises from your elbow might be accompanied by additional symptoms such as extreme pain, bruising and a distortion of the elbow joint.

Pressure Valve

A buildup of gasses in the synovial fluid in your elbow joint can cause cracking or popping sounds after a workout as the pressure in the joint is released by flexing, stretching or moving it. Popping or cracking of your elbow can either result from friction as your bones, tendons or ligaments rub together or if there is a loss of cartilage, which happens if you have osteoarthritis. Falling during a workout, or using improper lifting techniques with weights or presses can also cause a dislocated elbow, which might make a noise when the dislocation occurs.

What's Normal?

Elbow cracks from a buildup of gasses in the synovial fluid do not require any special treatment. They are a normal side effect of moving your joint during a workout. If you have osteoarthritis, you might consider taking an anti-inflammatory medication such as ibuprofen before working out, or doctors might prescribe a corticosteroid to reduce swelling that causes bones in the elbow to rub together and make noises. If the cracking elbow results from a dislocation of the joint, doctors often prescribe pain relievers and muscle relaxers before realigning the bones.You might require surgical treatments for damaged ligaments, nerves or blood vessels or fractured bones related to dislocated elbows. Surgery would be followed by physical therapy to improve motion and strength before you resume upper body workouts.

Stretch It Out

Stretching your arms before a workout to help warm your joints and muscles might help prevent painful strains and dislocations that cause elbow cracking. Alternative medicine practices such as chiropractic treatments and acupuncture might help reduce elbow cracking from working out, although if you are considering alternative medicine treatments first seek your physician’s approval.

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