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Athletic Training

Elbow popping



I have an eight year old daughter who has begun to love swimming for her swim team. She swims year round and it is hard to get her out of the pool. Recently she has complained of popping and slight pain in her elbow when swimming free and back and knee popping when swimming breast. Is this just a growing thing or should I be concerned. Are there exercises she can do to strengthen these areas?


Elbow popping accompanied by pain while swimming freestyle and backstroke is not normal. This popping may be caused from several things. The two most common that I have had experience with are

1.)a loose body is present in the joint, or

2.) the ulnar nerve jumps out of the groove. 

However, with your daughter's young age, it could also just be a matter of her activity.  I would suggest having the coach look at her technique as well as decreasing the amount of yardage she is swimming (depending on how long she is in the water each day). Because the popping can come from different problems of varying severity, I would also suggest following up with your family physician or a sports medicine professional. 

As for her knee popping while kicking breaststroke, as long as pain is not occurring at the same time, it is most likely not serious.  Occasional "popping" in joints that is not accompanied by pain is not an uncommon occurrence in swimmers, particularly in the knees and shoulders.  Again, if pain does occur, I would follow up with your family physician.  

As for strengthening exercises, I would refrain from adding anything to her training until following up with a physician.  A lot of times when elbow popping and pain are present, adding exercises that flex and extend the elbow can exacerbate symptoms. 

Best of luck to your daughter!

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Response by:

Katrina B Stibel, MA, ATC Katrina B Stibel, MA, ATC
Assistant Athletic Trainer, Instructor
Department of Athletics
College of Medicine
The Ohio State University