Swollen Ankles -- Causes and Cures
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January 21, 2009, Last Updated April 17, 2014

By Susan M. Callahan, Associate Editor and Featured Columnist

Health and fitness articles are reviewed by our team of Doctors,
Registered Nurses, Certified fitness trainers and other members of
our Editorial Board

Swollen ankles, technically called "edema" or "pedal
edema", can be caused by various medical conditions, from
heart failure to taking long journeys to something as simple
as standing too long on your feet.  

If doctors cannot narrow down the cause or if they do no
know the cause, then the ankle swelling is called "idopathic
edema", meaning swelling without a known cause. All of
these various medical conditions swell your ankles
ultimately by causing the leaking of fluids from the tiny
capillaries that supply blood and lymph fluid to your feet.  
What exactly causes the capillary leakage that leads to
swollen ankles? And, are there any natural remedies to
reduce ankle swelling?

Why, you may ask, do the capillaries to the feet end up

After all, there are miles of capillaries which supply blood
and lymph fluid to every inch of the far reaches of your
body, from the tip of your head, to your eyes, to your little
pinky and thumb. Why don't any of these capillaries leak
and cause your thumbs to swell?  The answer, researchers
believe, is gravity. Because we stand, the extra pressure
caused by standing exerts the full brunt of our weight on
our legs, and the added pressure pushes all our body's
fluid downward toward our feet.

Causes of Swollen Ankles

Swollen ankles can be caused by heart failure, high blood
pressure, excess salt in your blood stream, taking long
journeys, or simply being overweight.

In the case of heart failure, medical intervention is needed.
However, for cases of ankle swelling or
leg swelling
unrelated to heart failure, there are several natural
remedies that can help.

Swollen ankles caused by
heart failure have certain unusual
characteristics. The skin around the ankles swelling will
often appear to be pitted, similar to the peel of an orange,  
and called aptly enough, "pitted edema".

If you are one of the almost 5 million Americans who suffer
from congestive heart failure according to the American
Heart Association, you will need to seek medical attention
to properly address your ankle swelling. That said, many of
the natural remedies below will also work to help to reduce
ankle swelling in almost all cases.

Here are the most effective remedies for swollen ankles,
based upon medical research:

Reduce Salt In Your Diet.  Salt causes fluid retention.
Excess salt can cause your ankles to swell. It can actually
cause swelling of all of your tissues, but your ankles and
eyes show the swelling most easily. Most people do not
know that your body only needs 200 mg of salt a day. Most
Americans consume over 4000 mg a day.  

track the amount of salt in your food.  Most
processed meats and snacks, and even "healthy" products
such as yogurt and soy products are often packed with
hidden sources of sodium.  Even your tooth paste may
contain loads of salt.

The American Heart Association recommends that those
suffering from swollen ankles due to congestive heart
failure should immediately reduce their salt intake.

Eat a Banana. Bananas are one of the foods which can help
to reduce swelling of your ankles. Why? Bananas are
packed with potassium, which reduces fluid retention.
Potassium actually lowers the salt content in your body.
This is the reason
bananas can help to combat high blood

(Read more about
eating bananas to reduce swelling.)

Other foods which can reduce swelling of your ankles
because of their high potassium content are tomatoes and
spinach and various nuts. Raw pistachios are
potassium-rich nuts, with 1025 mg per handful. Almonds
are also potassium-rich, with 746 mg of potassium and only
1 mg of salt per dry roasted ounce. Whenever you choose
to eat nuts to help your swollen ankles, always choose the
unsalted varieties.

Lose Weight.  Excess weight has been strongly linked to
retention of fluid in the ankles and feet. Losing just 5
pounds can help. For every pound of weight you carry
exerts an additional 7 pounds of pressure on your feet and
ankles.  So, that extra 5 pounds exerts an additional 35
pounds of pressure on your feet and ankles. (Read more
7 medical conditions that can make you gain weight.)

Support Stockings.   As we age, the tiny capillaries around
our ankles naturally lose some of their ability to hold in
fluids. Support stocking help by literally acting as
tourniquets, like a tight bandage acts to stop blood from a
cut, holding in and packing in the fluid. They help the
symptoms of swelling but they do not address the
underlying cause. Reducing salt and losing weight will bring
you far greater permanent relief than stockings.

Flex Your Ankles.  Standing for long periods is one of the
leading causes of swollen ankles.

But why don't marathon runners get swollen ankles? They
run 26 miles on their feet, after all.  

It turns out the standing is
worse than moving for your
ankles. The act of moving your feet and ankles actually
helps the lymph fluids circulate through your body rather
than pooling around your ankles.  So, if you have to stand
for your job, you should lift you leg and flex and turn your
ankles every half an hour to reduce the risk of swelling.  On
long journeys, in your car or on a plane, train or bus,
where your feet and ankles are stationary, take a moment
to flex your toes and ankles to move the fluids around
every half an hour.

Certain Exercises Prevent Leg Swelling.  Specific exercises
can prevent leg swelling or greatly reduce the number of
times you experience swollen legs or ankles. A 1997 study
from Hiroshima University in Japan found that knee bends
are especially effective in preventing leg swelling. The study
examined 13 healthy young males between the ages of 23
and 36.  

The subjects were asked to stand for an hour at a time,
interrupted every 10 minutes by one minute of exercise
consisting of knee bends, foot-stepping, walking or heel
raises.  The knee bends were far more effective than any of
the other exercises at reducing leg swelling.  

Examples of knee bend exercises? Try doing a few simple
squats or lunges whenever you find that you have to stand
for long periods of time. Make sure when you do your
squats, that you keep your back straight, and never bend
lower than the height of a typical desk chair. This will help
you avoid putting undue strain on your knees.

Elevate Your Legs.  The effectiveness of elevating your legs
for reducing swollen ankles --and leg swelling in general --
has been verified by several research studies. As a general
matter, medical authorities recommend that you elevate
your legs above the level of your heart. If you are lying
flat, any amount of elevation of your legs will raise them
above the level of your heart. But how high should you
raise your legs to be most effective in reducing leg swelling?

A 1989 study led by Dr. M. Y. Liaw and M.K. Kong from
China found that raising your legs at an angle of 30
degrees --about the height you achieve if you rest your
legs on 2 pillows --was most comfortable, but that the
higher you raise your legs, the more effective in reducing
leg swelling.  

The study examined 31 women between the ages of 20 and
40 who worked at Chang Gung Memorial Hospital . The
participants' leg swelling (edema) was examined at 5
different angles : 0 degrees (lying flat), 30 degrees, 45
degrees, 60 degrees and 90 degrees (at which point your
legs make an "L" shape with your body).  The 90 degree
angle was not comfortable, with particpants complaining of
numbness and throbbing.  At 30 degrees, leg swelling was
reduced and the comfort level was at a maximum.

Loosen Up Your Clothes. The lymph system is like a river.
Any dam that is placed at any point in the river stops the
flow to points below the dam. So, loosening up your
clothes, especially in the evenings, can dramatically reduce
swollen ankles.  Loosen or take off belts, bras, neck ties,
watch bands and rings.  And never wear a bra to bed. For
men, never wear tight briefs.
Tight bras and briefs can
cause several health problems, including swollen ankles or
leg swelling.  It dams the lymph river, and prevents the
natural flow of lymph fluid throughout your body.

Get Screened for Rheumatoid Arthritis. If your ankles swell
in the mornings, it could be an early sign of
arthritis or idiopathic arthritis. Swollen ankles caused by
arthritis often feel warm and spongy. According to the
National Institutes of Health, early treatment of rheumatoid
arthritis can greatly reduce your risk of disability from this

Avoid Tight Shoes or Absolutely Flat Shoes. Shoes that too
tight restrict circulation and can cause swollen ankles.

Surprisingly, flat shoes also can cause swollen ankles.
When you wear shoes with a slight heel, the heel forces
your leg to build muscle in your calves and thighs, which in
turn helps to force blood from your feet and ankles back up
through the rest of your upper body. Flat shoes do not
encourage this type of muscle development. Unfortunately,
flat "ballerina shoes" and flip-flops have become
increasingly popular, which is contributing to swollen

How high a shoe heel should you wear to prevent ankle
swelling? The type of heel that is ideal for swollen ankles is
not extreme --not high heels-- but a slight 1 to 1.5 inch
heel. This type of shoe heel appears preferable to an
absolutely flat heel shoes such as flip-flops and ballerina

Most well-fitted walking shoes, nurses shoes and tennis
shoes have the ideal type of heel.  

As noted by muscular and occupational therapist, Dr. Preeti
Jadhav , "Walking with heels alters the centre of gravity,
training your legs to produce muscle especially in the calf
and thighs thus toning them. For people who suffer from
poor circulation and for those who are prone to swollen
ankles, shoes with one-inch heels can boost the amount of
blood and tissue fluid that is returned from the legs to the
upper body."


Do the Bicycle Exercise. Pretending to ride a bicycle can
help to reduce swollen ankles. Just  lie on your back with
your legs in the air and cycle your legs as though you are
pedaling a bicycle. This exercise encourages blood flow out
of your legs, reducing swelling in your ankles.

Don't Use Comfrey Leaf to Treat Swollen Ankles

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