People can experience swollen feet and legs for a wide variety of reasons. Known as edema, swelling in the extremities can cause pain, discomfort, and the inability to wear shoes. While edema may be a passing complication, it could also be a sign that something else is wrong.
Common Causes of Foot or Ankle Swelling
Everything from foot trauma to taking a long journey to becoming pregnant can cause fluid to build up in body tissues. However, any unexplained swelling that lasts longer than a few days could be a symptom sign of a serious health issue.
Some of the most common causes of foot and ankle swelling include:
- Injuries. Repetitive stress or overuse may cause swelling in both legs, while ankle sprains or broken bones may cause swelling on one side only. You may also experience edema while recovering from surgery.
- Infections. Swelling accompanied by pain, heat, and redness is usually a sign of infection. It is most common in those with infected ingrown toenails or untreated broken skin from diabetic wounds.
- Medication side effects. Some prescription medications have been known to cause edema, such as birth control pills, hormone replacement therapy (HRT) drugs, testosterone supplements, steroids, blood pressure medicines, and some diabetes treatments.
- Vascular problems. Veins may become weaker and less able to return blood from the extremities to the heart as people grow older. This condition, called venous insufficiency, often results in swelling in one or more limbs, varicose veins, and a browning or discoloration of the skin.
- Organ failure. The feet may begin to swell because the body’s systems are slowing down or are unable to process and excrete waste products. Heart disease, liver disease, kidney failure, and diabetes complications can all cause swelling in both feet and ankles.
- Pregnancy. Pregnant women may experience swelling in both feet and ankles due to hormonal changes, increased fluid in the body, and added pressure on the veins as the baby develops.
How to Begin Treating Your Swollen Feet and Ankles
Swollen feet, ankles, and legs are not always a cause for concern. If you worked a particularly long shift or if you are pregnant, occasional swelling in your feet may be temporary.
You can treat minor or occasional foot swelling at home by:
- Moving around. Standing or sitting for long periods of time (such as working at a desk or taking a long plane or car journey) can cause fluids to pool in your lower extremities. If your doctor approves, try to exercise three times a week for at least 20 minutes each session. During the day, make sure you move frequently (at least once an hour) to prevent your feet and legs from becoming swollen.
- Reducing salt intake. The food you eat can have a big impact on the health of your feet. If you commonly experience swelling in your legs, try switching to low-sodium foods to prevent fluid retention.
- Drinking more water. It may seem like a contradiction, but your body holds on to water when you are dehydrated. Try to drink at least eight glasses of water a day to reduce and prevent edema.
- Putting your feet up periodically. Elevating swollen extremities can help increase blood flow, draining excess fluid from the legs. Whenever you are sitting, prop your feet up above the level of your heart for 20 minutes at a time.
- Wearing compression stockings. Compression socks and stockings are a good solution to swelling for people who work long hours on their feet. These should ideally reach up to the knee and provide compression that squeezes, but does not cause the feet to go numb.
If these methods do not provide relief, the foot and ankle specialists at Greater Washington Advanced Podiatry are here to help. We offer free initial consultations and create a customized treatment plan to get you back on your feet as soon as possible. Simply fill out our online contact form or call us at (301) 515-FEET to set up your first visit.