Have you ever looked down at your ankles and feet, hardly recognizing them as your own because they are so swollen? Whether from long days on your feet, travel or surgery, it happens. For pregnant women, it’s almost inevitable.
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Feet and ankle swelling 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, says Georgeanne Botek, DPM, Head of the Section of Podiatry.
Swelling (or what doctors refer to as edema) happens when your body retains fluid in the lower legs, ankles and feet, she says. 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 painful swollen ankles and feet
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:
- Compression socks. Available at your local drug store, shoe store or online, 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. Then wear them as long as you can tolerate beginning first thing in the morning.
- 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.
- 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.
- Weight loss. Losing weight can reduce swelling and improve your health overall, Dr. Botek says.
- 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.
- 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.
For best results, always use more than one therapy at a time, Dr. Botek says. For example, if you walk for exercise, use compression-sock therapy later. If you swim, consider adding yoga to your routine.
Simple changes to reduce or prevent 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 and carbohydrate intake.
- Put phone books or bricks under the foot of your bed to elevate your legs and feet at night.
Some people looking for relief from this chronic, annoying problem also try essential oils such as peppermint oil, eucalyptus oil and/or lavender or chamomile.
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.