6 ways to reduce swollen feet and ankles

We all experience swollen feet and ankles from time to time. This painless but pesky puffiness is known to medics as oedema and is the result of fluid leaking from our cells. Read on to discover what causes swollen feet and ankles, as well as six simple strategies to stop swelling in its tracks.

What causes swollen feet and ankles?

Women are more likely to experience swollen feet and ankles than men. This is because one of our primary sex hormones (progesterone) encourages water retention. This explains why we might notice puffiness at certain times in our menstrual cycle, at our progesterone peak.

Hormones aside, one of the most common causes of swollen feet and ankles is sitting for long periods of time. This might happen if our mobility is restricted (due to age, injury or disability), on long plane or car journeys, or if our work is sedentary (a desk job, for example). In these cases, swelling can occur as the muscles are not working to move blood and fluid evenly throughout the body.

Being overweight can also leave us more vulnerable to water retention. Shifting a few extra pounds will certainly help to reduce the pressure on our feet and ankles, improve circulation and ease swelling.

It’s also common to experience swollen feet and ankles during pregnancy. This tends to get worse as a pregnancy progresses and usually comes on towards the end of the day.

When to see a doctor for swollen feet and ankles?

In most cases, painless and temporary swelling of the feet and ankles is not cause for concern, and there’s no need to see a doctor.

In some cases, however, swollen legs can indicate a more serious condition. If the leg is warm, swollen and tender, see a GP urgently to check for DVT (deep vein thrombosis). Similarly, if you feel out of breath, have a high temperature or you notice your skin turning yellow, the NHS recommends urgently visiting your GP.

If you’re pregnant and swelling comes on quickly (rather than gradually) or is accompanied by headaches, vomiting or a general ill-feeling, ring your midwife, GP or labour ward for urgent assistance as this can be a sign of pre-eclampsia.

How to reduce swollen feet and ankles

If left to their own devices, swollen feet and ankles should reduce naturally over time. However, these simple at-home strategies can help to soothe swelling and give limbs a helping hand in the right direction.

Drink plenty of water

Though it seems counterintuitive, drinking plenty of fluids can actually help to reduce swelling and water retention. This is because when our body is dehydrated it clings to the fluids it does have, giving us a puffy appearance. In the UK climate, this means drinking 6-8 glasses (1.2 litres) of water a day.

Top up magnesium

There’s some evidence that soaking feet for 15-20 minutes in cool water laced with Epsom salts (magnesium sulphate) can help to reduce swelling. Similarly, taking 200 to 400 mg of magnesium daily may help to prevent swelling as well as boosting energy and improving the quality sleep.

Elevate and massage feet

Finally, an excuse to put our feet up! Elevating swollen feet and ankles can help to reduce swelling by aiding circulation to the lower body. If sat in a chair use a footstool and place a couple of extra cushions underneath your feet for added height. You can even prop up your feet with pillows in bed.

A simple massage can also help to release stored water. Use firm, repetitive strokes towards the heart.

Get moving

The more sedentary we are, the more chance fluid has to build-up in our feet and ankles.  If swelling is making exercise uncomfortable, consider non-weight bearing activities such as swimming.

Simple foot exercises can also help. While seated flex and point your foot up and down 30 times. Next, rotate each foot in a circle 10 times one way and 10 times the other way.

For Liz’s favourite at-home exercises be sure to download her best-selling ebook, A Stronger, Slimmer You.

Try compression socks

Compression socks are available at most pharmacies and can help to treat and prevent swelling in the legs, ankles and feet. They tend to come in light, medium and heavy weights. It’s best to start light and build up if needed.

Scale back on salt

Salt isn’t always the villain it’s made out to be. We need small amounts to maintain healthy blood pressure and absorb certain nutrients in our diet. If we exceed our recommended intake (6g or 1 tsp a day for adults), however, excess sodium can build up in our blood. This draws fluid out of our cells to and into the bloodstream causing swelling. This is most apparent in our fingers and feet and tends to be accompanied by thirst as the body attempts to replace the fluids that have been drawn from the cells.

It’s worth noting that we don’t have to add salt to our foods to eat too much of it. In fact, 75% of the salt we eat is already in everyday processed foods such as bread, cereals and ready meals. Try to cook from scratch where possible and avoid ready-made sauces that can be loaded with both salt and sugar.

Read more articles like this