Swollen feet and ankles have become a common problem among men and women of almost all age groups. Swollen ankles can cause discomfort, heaviness, and even pain in some cases. Most of the time, an individual suffering from a swollen ankle may also experience swelling in feet and legs as well.
If the swelling continues for an extended period, and the patient does not take appropriate measures against it, the problem can progress further. It can cause numbness and swelling of the entire lower body. The manifestation of such extreme symptoms can make movement extremely difficult.
In this article, we will explain in detail the symptoms, causes, and treatments, especially compression therapy, to prevent and control swollen ankles.
Symptoms and Causes
Our body contains blood and other essential fluids that perform specific functions in the body. Not only the fluids themselves but their circulation and normal flow are also crucial for the regular operation of the body. The heart contractions are responsible for pumping fresh blood in the blood vessels and draw deoxygenated blood back towards itself. If, for some reason, the blood begins to pool in the feet and ankles, then it can cause swelling.
Symptoms of swollen ankles include puffiness in the tissue of the affected area, pitting or indentation on the affected area, shiny skin surface, and increase in size of the limb. The ankle diameter usually increases, and the patient can feel heaviness, soreness, and even pain in feet and ankles when walking or moving around.
There can be several causes of swollen ankles and feet. Some of the most common reasons are:
The most common cause of ankle and feet swelling is edema or dropsy. Edema is simply the pooling of blood in your lower limbs. The reason for the edema is most of the patients is the lack of movement and standing or sitting in one place. Edema can sometimes also affect thighs, legs, and upper limbs too.
When fluid retention is due to gravity, the phenomenon is known as dependent edema. Lymphedema is the medical term for the swelling that is caused by leaky lymph vessels and the accumulation of lymph fluid. If the skin becomes pitted or applying pressure leaves an indentation on the skin surface, then this type of edema is pitting edema.
Trauma to the ankle or foot
Injury or trauma can also be a cause of swelling, pain, and inflammation of ankle and foot. If you have swelling in one of the ankles or feet, it is more likely that you suffered from an injury. The most common example of injury in the ankle area is leg or ankle sprain. If the nature of the injury is severe, it can cause torn ligaments, tissue damage, and even bone fracture. All of these may also result in swelling as well, and a doctor’s visit is a must.
The swelling of ankles and feet is reasonably common in the last trimesters of pregnancy. A sudden increase in weight can exert extra pressure on the veins and may cause the fluids to accumulate, causing swelling.
Venous insufficiency, varicose veins, spider veins, ulcers, clotting, and infections may cause acute swelling in the lower limbs. Damaged walls and valves of the veins can cause the blood to leak into nearby tissues. This can cause further unwanted clotting, as well as swelling. Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT) is the medical term for clots that form deep in the tissues and can pose serious health risks.
Medicinal side effects
Swollen ankles can be a side effect of hormones (like estrogens and testosterone), medicines for blood pressure, depression, anxiety, diabetes, and inflammation, and some steroids.
Obesity, high-salt diet, alcoholism and smoking
Your lifestyle acts a huge role in determining your health and physical wellness. Salt-rich diet, being overweight, smoking habits, and addiction can all cause swollen ankles indirectly and sometimes directly. Lack of exercise, poor diet, and less water intake can also worsen the swelling.
Heart, liver, and kidney diseases
You must be wondering how a person’s heart, liver, and kidneys can cause swollen ankles. If the heart is not pumping the blood properly to the limbs, you can face edema. If the liver is not producing sufficient albumin (that keeps the blood from leaving the walls of veins), then you can suffer from edema as well. Similarly, if the kidneys are unable to remove excess fluids from the blood, and are not working correctly due to some disease, you can experience swollen feet.
Interestingly, sometimes the exact cause of swollen ankles and feet is not known, and there is no clear medical explanation for it. Such a condition is known as idiopathic edema.
Are swollen ankles dangerous for your health?
Swollen ankles and feet may cause discomfort, heaviness, and soreness. Still, they do not pose a life-threatening situation in terms of health. However, if the swelling of the ankles is due to some other underlying cardiovascular, liver, and kidney disease, you must visit the doctor to get professional medical advice.
Some of the complications that can be potentially dangerous to your health include an increase in swelling area and magnitude, irritation, redness of the skin, chest pain, breathlessness, and nausea. Skin ulcers can become lethal if germs and bacteria infect them. It is best to visit your nearest healthcare facility if you sense that the swelling and pain is not subsiding.
How to get rid of swollen ankles
There can be several causes or even some underlying diseases that may cause your ankles and feet to swell. So, unless the real cause of the disease is diagnosed and treated, the condition will not disappear. Light or very mild swelling can go away on its own, without any treatment or medication. Though, you can use the following remedies to control and treat swollen ankles.
Massage the affected area
Massaging your legs, ankles, and feet can relieve you from swelling and edema symptoms to a certain degree. Pressing is not a good idea in case the swelling is severe, as it may cause more pain and augment inflammation.
Elevating your legs can draw the fluids and blood away from your feet and ankles back towards the core of the body. You can simply place pillows beneath your feet or lie on an inclined surface to elevate your feet and then let gravity do the rest of the work. The elevation technique is a quick but temporary fix of the condition.
Diuretic drugs like furosemide can help treat swollen feet by removing the excess body fluids through urine. Self-medication, in the case of swollen feet, can be very dangerous, so you must consult your doctor for oral medicine.
Physical activity and exercise can promote blood flow towards your limbs and improve overall blood circulation. Regular exercise can prevent and control swelling of ankles and is also beneficial for your health and general well-being.
Limit salt in your diet
A high-salt diet can be one of the causes of swollen ankles and feet. Reduce salt intake in your diet and drink plenty of water to fight this messy condition.
Compression therapy is clinically proven to mitigate swollen ankles and feet significantly. It is one of the most accessible remedies for the treatment of edema, whatever the cause may be. It is best for controlling venous insufficiencies, varicose veins, chronic edema, post-surgical rehabilitation, and during pregnancy.
Compression socks for the treatment
Unfortunately for some individuals, ankle and feet swelling can be chronic and may last forever. Similarly, if you have a job that requires you to stand or sit for long periods, swollen ankles can become a nuisance for you. Nurses, medical staff, and people that perform shift duties are also prone to swelling of ankles.
Compression therapy presents a simple and easy way to reduce this swelling with minimal side-effects. You can wear compression stockings or compression sleeves under your clothes while at work or home.
Compression therapy, including compression bandages, compression hoses, sleeves, socks, and tubes were first used for post-surgical recovery patients and pregnant women. The popularity of compression garments has increased significantly. It is popular among athletes, elders, nurses, and individuals suffering from swollen ankles and feet.
They also reduce the risk of sports injuries, prevent fluid build-up, and reduce the chances of clotting and other severe medical conditions.
How do compression garments work for swollen feet and ankles?
Compression garments apply a continuous amount of pressure on the wearer’s leg, foot, and ankle region. This gentle squeezing develops into a gradient of pressure that pushes the blood inside the blood vessels and forces it to leave the extremities.
With this simple mechanical principle, compression stockings can successfully keep the blood from pooling in the ankles and feet. Regular use of compression socks can combat swelling of ankles, legs, and thighs.
How to choose compression socks for swollen ankles and feet?
Compression stockings are usually available in a variety of sizes, shapes, compression levels, and lengths. To make the compression therapy a success, you must choose the correct size, length, and compression level of the socks.
Each of the compression levels (light, mild, moderate, and high) of the socks is suitable for a different set of symptoms and conditions. Moderate compression level (20 mm Hg to 30 mm Hg) is ideal for mitigating swollen ankles and feet.
Lengths of compression socks also vary according to personal preference and individual symptoms. Compression stockings are available as knee-high, thigh-high, and waist-high lengths. Similarly, they are also available in open-toe, regular, or in the form of compression sleeves (with no feet part).
How to use compression stockings when you suffering from ankle swelling or feet swelling?
Compression socks are usually worn in the day time, and you should take them off before going to bed. You must choose the correct size, compression level, and configuration or shape of the compression hosiery.
You must avoid using ointments and skin care products before wearing compression garments. If your compression level is not correct, then you might not be able to get the desired results by using the socks. If the stockings are too tight, they can cut off blood circulation, and if they are of low compression, then you may not be able to prevent swelling.
Some Dos and Don’ts
Dos for compression socks
- Whenever you get the chance try elevating your lower body and relax
- Make a healthy workout and exercise routine to increase blood circulation through the lower body
- Choose comfortable and soft footwear, preferably low heel and not too tight
- Care for your feet and ankles regularly
- Improve your hygiene and keep your feet clean and dry to reduce any risk of infection
- If the swelling is persistent, book an appointment with your doctor
- If the swelling is in one ankle only (unilateral), this can be due to trauma, and you must consider visiting the emergency room
- If there is a sudden change in heart rate and blood pressure, or you have chest pain along with swollen ankles, you must immediately rush to the hospital or call an ambulance
Don’ts of compression socks
- Do not wear garments, footwear, and even compression socks that are way too tight
- Do not keep the same posture or remain immobile for long durations
- Do not take any infection, progressing disease, or increased swelling lightly and see your physician as soon as possible.
Using compression socks is one of the most effective techniques to control edema and ankle swelling.
However, when you combine them with other measures (as discussed in detail) and adopt the necessary precautions, you increase your chances of living a healthy and swelling-free life.