Have you ever looked down at your ankles and feet, first not recognizing them as your own, then, realizing they are swollen? Whether from long days on your feet, travel or surgery, it happens. For pregnant women, it is almost inevitable.
Swelling in your ankles and feet is uncomfortable, and sometimes it keeps you from moving freely. But, there are several ways to relieve swelling from everyday causes — and sometimes you can even prevent it, according podiatric physician and surgeon Georgeanne Botek, DPM, Head of the Section of Podiatry and Medical Director of the Diabetic Foot Clinic at Cleveland Clinic.
She says swelling (or what doctors refer to as edema) happens when your body retains fluid in the lower legs, ankles and feet. It most often occurs on both sides of the body, and it’s not an emergency situation.
“When it comes to swelling, it’s about management and getting through the day,” she says. “There’s nothing that’s necessarily curative.”
How to relieve swollen, painful feet and ankles
You can often treat the symptoms of swelling that occurs on both sides of your body yourself, Dr. Botek says. Here are some ideas that can help:
1. Compression socks. Available at your local drug or grocery store, compression socks provide pain relief and prevent fluid collection in your legs, ankles and feet.
They come in light, medium and heavy weights, so be sure you select a pair that isn’t too tight for your body. Dr. Botek suggests starting with lightweight ones that measure between 12-15 mm or 15-20 mm of mercury.
2. Elevation. Prop your legs up on an ottoman to help decrease swelling. Various yoga poses, such as lying on the floor with your legs raised and pressed against the wall, can also help.
3. Exercise. Sitting or standing in one place for too long can increase swelling. Move your knees, and flex and extend your ankles for relief.
Consider swimming, as well, because it’s a non-weight-bearing exercise that can also soothe the skin.
4. Weight loss. Losing weight can reduce swelling, as well as improve your health overall, Dr. Botek says.
5. Epsom salt. Soak your feet and ankles for 15 to 20 minutes in a cool bath filled with Epsom salt to relieve swelling-associated pain. If you have diabetic neuropathy in your feet, check the water with your hands first to avoid exposing your feet to extreme temperatures.
6. Magnesium supplements. It’s possible that adding 200 to 400 mg of magnesium to your daily diet can help limit your water retention and pain. Talk to your doctor before taking the supplement, though, as you shouldn’t use it if you have a kidney or heart condition, Dr. Botek says.
For best results, always use more than one therapy at a time, she says. For example, if you walk for exercise, use compression-sock therapy later. If you swim, consider adding yoga to your routine.
How to tell when you should see your doctor
If you develop leg ulcerations or blisters, call your physician. Blisters and sores can set you up for infection, Dr. Botek says.
Also, monitor your feet. Shoes that are too tight due to swelling can often cut into your skin and create wounds.
Most importantly, if swelling only occurs on one side, consult your doctor immediately. You could be at risk for a deep vein thrombosis.
Simple changes that help you reduce or avoid swelling
You can make small changes to your everyday life to help reduce swelling:
- Take a short walk every hour.
- Drink eight to 10 glasses of water daily. Drinking less actually promotes swelling.
- Limit your salt intake.
- Put phone books or bricks under the foot of your bed to elevate your legs and feet at night.
Little evidence exists to support using essential oils to reduce swelling. However, you can use peppermint oil, eucalyptus oil, and/or lavender and chamomile if you find them helpful.