Snapping noises in your elbow while exercising can be worrisome, but it doesn't always mean something is seriously wrong. Gas buildup in the joints, anatomical anomalies and improper form can all create elbow snapping sounds. In some cases, degeneration of the tendons, bones or ligaments may be the cause. If the snapping happens continuously or is accompanied by pain, consult a doctor.
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Snapping or crackling of the elbow happens most frequently when you extend and straighten it. The snapping sound may be accompanied by the sensation that something is moving in your elbow. Also, you may feel a buildup of pressure right before the snapping sound is heard. You may also feel as if the elbow is locking or is difficult to move. If injury or long-term degeneration of tendons, bones or ligaments is involved, you may feel pain and swelling.
The snapping sound can be the result of excess gas in the synovial fluid -- the lubricant of the joints -- suddenly releasing when you straighten your elbow. This is similar to what happens when you crack your knuckles, according to the Library of Congress Everyday Mysteries website. The snapping could be the result of a tendon, ligament, or nerve being out of place and suddenly snapping back into alignment. This can result from degeneration as the result of overuse. It could also be an abnormality in your anatomy. In some instances, this can be exacerbated by the movements that you are performing. If you are experiencing pain or swelling with the snapping, you could have an injury, such as a dislocated elbow. It may also be osteoarthritis, which is caused by bone degeneration. In rare cases, the snapping can be caused by a systemic problem, such as an autoimmune disease like rheumatoid arthritis.
Treatment for a snapping elbow depends on the cause. If you are just experiencing the problem intermittently as the result of a gas buildup, no treatment would be necessary. Snapping as the result of an anatomical abnormality or a problem with the tendons, ligaments or nerves must be diagnosed by a doctor. In some cases, nothing will be done, but if it the snapping is causing more damage, surgery may be required. If you suffer from osteoarthritis, your doctor may be able to prescribe an anti-inflammatory to reduce the swelling that can cause the bones to rub together and make the snapping sound. If you are experiencing mild pain or swelling, an over-the-counter anti-inflammatory such as ibuprofen or aspirin may help. If the problem is an underlying medical disorder or injury, your doctor would need to diagnose it and prescribe the proper treatment and medication.
Warming up the muscles and stretching them before a workout may help get rid of the snapping sound. Warming up your body can increase blood flow and reduce the possibility of injury and can reduce the gas buildup in the synovial joints. If you notice the snapping sound is occurring only during certain movements, change your movements or your posture. If you are experiencing pain along with the snapping, stop your activity and seek medical attention.