Have you wondered how your feet and ankles are swollen sometimes, especially after sitting and traveling for a long time? It is normal to have swollen ankles and feet and usually not a cause for concern, particularly if you have been standing or walking a lot.
But feet and ankles that stay swollen or are accompanied by other symptoms could signal a serious health problem. EHC looks at some possible causes of foot and ankle swelling and offers advice on when to call the doctor.
- Dependent swelling (or edema): Swelling due to standing or walking (usually over some time period that varies from person to person).
- Pregnancy: The normal swelling that most pregnant women experience during pregnancy.
- Medications (side effects): Many medications have the side effect of fluid retention that manifests as swelling. General categories that may cause swelling include anti-inflammatory drugs (steroids and NSAIDs), hormones, medication for people with diabetes, antidepressants, and many calcium channel blockers (anti-hypertensive and cardiac medications).
- Injury: Any trauma to the foot or ankle (usually sprains or fractures) can result in swelling.
- Diseases: Heart disease, liver disease, kidney disease (all of these diseases can influence fluid mobilization in the body by physical, metabolic and electrolyte-water interactions).
- Infection: Any infection, either localized (abscess) or diffuse (cellulitis).
- Lymphedema: Swelling due to lymph vessel or lymph node blockage of lymph fluid.
- Blood clot: Blockage of blood vessels (usually venous) that cause fluid to leak out of vessels into tissue.
Who is at risk for swollen ankles and swollen feet?
A large number of people are at risk for swollen ankles and feet. People with the above listed conditions are largely at risk. There are other causes that are less frequent and intermittent (for example: gout or hairline ankle fractures).
The symptoms of swollen feet and swollen ankles depend on the underlying causes mentioned above.
- In general, swelling caused by dependent edema, pregnancy, medications, and most diseases produce swelling that is bilateral (present in both feet or ankles ) and usually begins as a soft, puffy skin enlargement in the feet that spreads rapidly (often within hours) to the ankles.
- The skin is easily indented when pressed down with a finger and slowly returns to its more puffy state when the finger pressure is removed.
- Indentions seen in the puffy skin when shoes or socks are removed are classic signs of swelling.
- The skin color with this swelling is often normal or slightly pale; indentation marks are slightly darker than the surrounding swollen tissue.
Occasionally, specific medical problems will show additional or relatively unique symptoms.
- Symptoms of gout include swelling of the big toe with redness, warmth and pain, arthritis with swelling and joint pain, or electrolyte imbalance with low magnesium causing foot and leg cramps.
- Sudden appearance of bilateral feet and ankle swelling during pregnancy (usually after 20 weeks) can be the first symptoms noticed in females with preeclampsia.
- With blood clots there is often pain generated when the swollen area has pressure applied to the area. Venous insufficiency, when chronic, often has skin changes in color and texture as described above but may also develop skin ulcers or secondary infections.
Swollen feet and ankles can lead to discomfort and pain when walking or running is attempted. Chronic swelling can lead to skin color changes and skin ulcers. The skin ulcers can occasionally become infected. The skin infections can be further complicated by abscess formation, cellulitis, necrotizing fasciitis, and death.
How to prevent swollen ankles and swollen feet?
There are a number of things that you can do to ease swollen feet during pregnancy and prevent further foot problems and these include:
- Take short breaks during the day and elevate your feet to relieve the pressure.
- Stretch and flex your feet when you are sitting down.
- Wear shoes that fit properly and avoid wearing high-heeled or tight shoes while you are pregnancy as they will constrict circulation.
- Exercise regularly to ensure optimum health – practice walking every day.
- Shop for shoes towards the end of the day as feet tend to swell as the day progresses.
- Measure your feet often throughout your pregnancy as they will change in size.
- Wear compression hosiery to keep the pressure from fluids down.
- Wear seamless socks that do not constrict circulation.
- Eat healthy, well balanced meals and avoid foods high in salt that can cause water retention.
- Drink plenty of water to keep the body hydrated, reduce swelling and improve circulation.
- Have a relaxing foot massage to soothe swollen feet and stimulate circulation.
- An effective home remedy for swollen feet and ankles is soaking the feet in cold water for 15 minutes. This will help reduce the edema and relieve swollen feet.
- You should also reduce your intake of salty foods. Salt is osmotic in action, and it can increase water retention, resulting in the swelling of feet. As such, you must refrain from consume salty foods. Also avoid canned and processed foods as they are rich in salt.
- Massaging your feet with warm mustard oil is also an effective method of alleviating swelling and pain in the feet and ankles.
- One of the most effective home remedies for swollen feet is the application of apple cider vinegar, which helps reduce the excessive fluid content in the body, thereby relieving swelling in the ankles and feet.
- You can also use cucumber to treat swollen feet on account of its ability to absorb excessive water from the body. Take a slice of cucumber, put it on your foot, and cover it with a bandage or cotton cloth to relieve the swelling.
- The intake of soaked lecithin seeds is also one of the home remedies for swollen feet.
- Rest the foot or ankle that has been affected. For most people, that means avoiding walking whenever possible, or at least placing as little pressure as possible on the area. It may be a nuisance to have to avoid walking during this process, but it will help your recovery move along much faster.
- Ice your foot or ankle with a cold pack, some ice cubes in a baggie or a bag of frozen vegetables. These are all good options because they can be shaped to surround the affected area. Put ice on as soon as you can after the injury occurs. Leave the ice on for only about 10 to 15 minutes, then repeat the process every few hours thereafter. The ice will help reduce both pain and swelling.
- Compress your injured foot or ankle for both stability and swelling reduction. Make sure that the wrap or bandage is snug on the injury without cutting off circulation or causing more pain.
- Elevate your foot or ankle while doing all of the steps listed above. Ideally, you should lie on the ground, in bed or on the couch so that your injured foot can be elevated slightly above your heart to reduce swelling more effectively.
- Interrupt sitting or standing several times a day and elevate the feet and ankles above the heart
- Avoid smoking, alcohol and other substances that can lead to underlying causes of swelling.
Exercise can help improve your circulation, and yoga is a great way to get moving and really focus on that circulatory system. Swimming or even floating in water can help with swollen feet and ankles. The pressure from the water can help get things moving in your legs, and floating gives your circulatory system a break from gravity’s constant pull. If you don’t have a pool, check out local gyms to see what they offer.