Why Does My Wrist Make a Popping Sound When I Rotate It?

You may not be aware of it, but you constantly rotate your hand in various activities. Whether you’re turning a doorknob or brushing your teeth, you utilize your wrist to twist your hand. Therefore, it’s quite common to hear a crack or pop when you rotate your wrist. While this popping or cracking sensation is often experienced, it can be effectively treated with proper medical care.

Wrist Tendonitis

Wrist tendonitis occurs when the tendons in your wrist, which are tough tissues connecting the muscles in your forearm to the bones in your hand, become inflamed. Repetitive stress on these tendons from overuse can lead to wrist tendonitis.

Signs of wrist tendonitis include:

  • Pain
  • Swelling and inflammation
  • Stiffness
  • Difficulty performing specific movements
  • A popping or grinding noise and/or sensation

Your medical provider can diagnose wrist tendonitis through a physical examination and an evaluation of your symptoms. This examination may involve your provider applying pressure to your forearm, hand, or wrist while asking you to perform specific movements. Once diagnosed, the following treatments can be considered for wrist tendonitis:

  • Medications such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) or steroid injections
  • Physical or occupational therapy to safely rebuild strength and mobility in your wrist
  • Rest and ice to reduce inflammation and aid in the healing process
  • Splinting to stabilize your wrist and support its healing
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In cases where nonsurgical interventions are not effective, surgery may be recommended. Wrist tendonitis surgery is typically performed on an outpatient basis, meaning you won’t need to stay in the hospital after the procedure.

De Quervain’s Tenosynovitis

De Quervain’s tenosynovitis, also known as de Quervain’s tendinosis, is a common condition characterized by swelling of specific thumb tendons. This condition can be caused by overuse, a direct blow to the thumb, inflammatory diseases such as arthritis, or repetitive grasping and lifting with your thumb.

Symptoms of de Quervain’s tendinosis include:

  • Pain and tenderness along the thumb side of your wrist
  • Pain or difficulty moving your thumb, especially during grasping or pinching
  • A snapping or popping sensation when moving the wrist and/or thumb

Nonsurgical treatments for de Quervain’s tenosynovitis are similar to those for general wrist tendonitis.

Wrist Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis is a degenerative disease that affects joints in your body, including the wrist. This condition targets the cartilage in your joints, which is the tough yet flexible tissue covering and protecting the ends of the bones within a joint. Over time, osteoarthritis wears away this cartilage, resulting in friction in your joints, accompanied by clicking or popping sounds and pain. Other symptoms of wrist osteoarthritis include:

  • Stiffness in the affected joints
  • Swelling
  • Weakness and limited range of motion

Similar to tendonitis, nonsurgical treatments are usually the first approach for wrist osteoarthritis. These treatments may include:

  • NSAIDs
  • Cortisone injections
  • Heat and rest
  • Bracing or splinting
  • Physical or occupational therapy

If necessary, surgery can be considered, with options including wrist fusion and wrist replacement surgery. Both procedures effectively relieve pain, although wrist fusion significantly reduces the range of motion in your wrist.

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Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

Carpal tunnel syndrome is a common condition that affects the hand and wrist. It occurs when there is increased pressure on the median nerve within the carpal tunnel, which provides sensation to the thumb, index, and middle fingers. The swelling of the median nerve and tendons due to pressure results in a loss of sensation in the hand and fingers.

People who engage in activities or professions involving repetitive finger use are at risk of developing carpal tunnel syndrome. A medical provider can diagnose carpal tunnel syndrome through a physical examination, X-rays, electromyography, and nerve conduction studies. Typical symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome include:

  • Numbness in the hand and wrist
  • Tingling and/or pain in the fingers, particularly those connected to the median nerve
  • Difficulty using the affected hand
  • Loss of strength
  • Popping sounds

Initially, healthcare providers usually treat carpal tunnel syndrome without surgery. Nonsurgical treatments for carpal tunnel syndrome include:

  • Wearing a wrist splint, especially at night
  • Taking NSAIDs
  • Cortisone injections
  • Making ergonomic changes, such as adjusting your chair height, keyboard position, or hand/wrist posture during specific activities

If these treatments are not effective, carpal tunnel surgery may be necessary. The surgical procedure involves cutting the ligament covering the carpal tunnel at the base of the palm to enlarge the tunnel, relieving pressure on the nerves and tendons.

Triangular Fibrocartilage Complex (TFCC) or Extensor Carpi Ulnaris (ECU) Tear

The triangular fibrocartilage complex (TFCC) connects the bone in your forearm to the bones in your wrist, providing stability. Similarly, the extensor carpi ulnaris (ECU), located on the pinky side of your wrist, stabilizes your wrist and is crucial for wrist extension.

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If you experience a sudden loss of weight-bearing tolerance, you may have a TFCC tear. Conversely, pain in the outer part of your wrist at the back of your hand is likely an ECU tear. Additional symptoms of TFCC or ECU tears include:

  • Wrist weakness
  • Difficulty rotating or extending your wrist and forearm
  • Reduced grip strength or ability
  • Clicking or popping sound when turning your wrist or forearm

A healthcare provider can diagnose TFCC and ECU tears using a physical examination and imaging. Minor tears can be treated nonsurgically with options such as:

  • NSAIDs
  • Bracing
  • Cortisone injections
  • Physical or occupational therapy

For more severe TFCC or ECU tears, surgery may be recommended. Surgeries for these types of tears are minimally invasive and typically performed on an outpatient basis.

Get Your Wrist Treated at the Hand and Wrist Institute

If you experience a clicking or cracking sound when you rotate your wrist, the Hand and Wrist Institute can help diagnose and treat this common issue. With over 25 years of experience serving the Dallas-Fort Worth area, our team of experts utilizes state-of-the-art facilities and the latest techniques to ensure efficient and effective healing. For any questions or to schedule an appointment, please contact the Hand and Wrist Institute.


Image by Tom Claes, licensed under the Unsplash License

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