The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine

Ask a White Plains Podiatrist: What’s That Popping Sound in My Foot?

Posted by on Wednesday, May 16th, 2018

If you’ve ever broken a bone, you know that a pop is not a good sound. White Plains podiatrists come across popping, crackling, and snapping sounds in the foot for a variety of reasons—not always due to fracture.

popping sound in the foot
White Plains podiatrists diagnose causes of popping along the top of the foot. [Image Source: Pexels user Khairul Onggon] 

When Not to Worry About Popping Sound in the Foot

Some of the more benign reasons your foot may be popping include:

  • Stretching: As we walk, stretch, or roll our feet and extend slightly beyond the normal range of motion, the bones and ligaments may stretch and pop.
  • Repositioning: If you’re nursing an injury, the ligaments and tendons may have tangled or excessively tightened. This occurs when the tendon falls out of its normal groove in the bone—subluxation. Most of the time, displaced tendons gently pop back into their normal position, especially if you’ve been doing your stretches right. It doesn’t always feel good when your soft tissues realign, but if there is no additional bruising, swelling, or residual pain associated with the sound, subluxation is likely a cause.
  • Synovial Fluid Gas: If you’ve ever cracked your knuckles or popped your toes before, then you know the sound of synovial fluid gas popping. It’s a perfectly harmless sort of cracking that is not linked to arthritis or permanent damage. The joint bones are lubricated by synovial fluid, which prevents the bones from rubbing against each other. Oxygen, nitrogen, and carbon dioxide bubbles form in this fluid when the joint capsule is stretched, causing a popping sound as bubbles are released.

When to Worry About Popping Sound in the Foot

Troublesome popping scenarios may include:

  • Joint Problems: Repeated popping followed by pain is not normal. The joint may stick in one position if a piece of torn bone or cartilage gets caught between the joint surface. Arthritis in the foot may also make sounds as the rough joint surfaces rub against one another in the absence of healthy cartilage.
  • Tendon Dislocation: When a subluxation occurs and the tendons pop out of place but do not pop back in, they are considered dislocated. The peroneal tendons are most prone to dislocation from the back of the fibula if the peroneal retinaculum tissue has overstretched or torn (often during a sprain).
  • Soft Tissue Rupture: Ruptured tendons or ligaments cause a popping sound. The extensor tendons are the most prevalent soft tissue along the top of the foot. These tendons very rarely tear, but we do see this type of injury from time to time when a person drops a knife or glass on the top of the foot. The peroneus longus and peroneus brevis tendons run along the outside of the foot, while the anterior tibial tendon runs along the inside of the foot. Outer or inner tendon tears result from sudden overstretching when missing a step or rolling an ankle. The extensor hallucis longus runs down the front of the leg and connects to the big toe. When this tendon pops, it’s typically accompanied by drop toe and limited movement.
  • Metatarsal FractureIf you have difficulty bearing weight, you may have a fracture in the long bones running down the toe. You may have difficulty wiggling your toes and notice swelling, as well as bruising, shortly thereafter.
  • Morton’s Neuroma: Pain, burning, stinging, or numbness is typically felt on the underside ball of the foot. Joint popping may occur alongside Morton’s Neuroma, which is a swelling of the nerves leading to the toes.
  • Ganglion or Synovial Cysts: If you have a noticeable lump on the top of your foot that accompanied the pop, you may have a cyst caused by damage to the underlying joint or tendon. You may experience pain and tingling at the site. Sometimes cysts go away on their own. Other times, if they appear to be growing, you will need to see a doctor to have them drained and treated professionally.

What To Do When the Top of the Foot Pops

No matter what happened, it wouldn’t hurt to prop your affected foot up above the heart and place an ice pack on top. If rest and conservative measures do not provide comfort, contact a White Plains podiatrist for attentive care within 24 hours.

If you have any foot problems or pain, contact The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports MedicineDr. Josef J. GeldwertDr. Katherine Lai, Dr. Ryan Minara and Dr. Mariola Rivera have helped thousands of people get back on their feet. Unfortunately, we cannot give diagnoses or treatment advice online. Please make an appointment to see us if you live in the NY metropolitan area or seek out a podiatrist in your area.