What causes swelling in feet and ankles and how to treat it?

Symptom Database

Swelling in the feet and ankles, also known as edema, is a common condition that can be caused by various factors. It occurs when excess fluid accumulates in the tissues, leading to a puffy and swollen appearance. Understanding the causes of swelling and knowing how to treat it can help alleviate discomfort and prevent further complications. In this article, we will explore the different causes of swelling in the feet and ankles and provide effective remedies and treatments.

Causes of Swelling

Water Retention

One of the primary causes of swelling in the feet and ankles is water retention. This occurs when the body retains more fluid than it eliminates, leading to an imbalance. Several factors can contribute to water retention, including:

  • High salt intake
  • Pregnancy
  • Hormonal changes
  • Heart or kidney problems

Reducing salt intake, staying hydrated, and maintaining a healthy lifestyle can help alleviate water retention and reduce swelling.

Poor Circulation

Inadequate blood circulation can also cause swelling in the feet and ankles. When blood flow is compromised, fluid can accumulate in the lower extremities. Conditions that can contribute to poor circulation include:

  • Peripheral artery disease
  • Varicose veins
  • Deep vein thrombosis

Regular exercise, elevating the legs, and wearing compression stockings can improve circulation and reduce swelling.

Injury or Trauma

Swelling in the feet and ankles can also be a result of injury or trauma. Sprained ankles, fractures, or even minor bumps can cause localized swelling. Rest, ice, compression, and elevation (RICE) are commonly recommended for treating swelling caused by injury.

Remedies for Swelling


Applying compression to the swollen area can help reduce swelling. Compression socks or stockings are designed to apply pressure to the legs, promoting better circulation and preventing fluid buildup. These can be particularly beneficial for individuals who spend long periods sitting or standing.


Elevating the feet and ankles above heart level can help reduce swelling. This position allows gravity to assist in draining excess fluid from the lower extremities. Regularly elevating the legs for 15-20 minutes several times a day can provide relief.


Gentle massage can help stimulate blood flow and reduce swelling. Using upward strokes towards the heart, massage the affected area with a moisturizing lotion or oil. This can help alleviate discomfort and promote lymphatic drainage.

Treatment for Swelling


In cases where swelling is severe or persistent, a healthcare professional may prescribe diuretics. These medications help the body eliminate excess fluid through increased urine production. It is important to follow the prescribed dosage and consult a healthcare provider before starting any medication.


Regular physical activity can improve circulation and reduce swelling. Low-impact exercises such as walking, swimming, or cycling are gentle on the joints and can help prevent fluid buildup in the feet and ankles. Consult a healthcare professional before starting any exercise regimen.

Healthy Diet

A balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains can help reduce swelling. Avoiding processed foods and excessive salt intake can prevent water retention. Additionally, foods with natural diuretic properties, such as cucumber, watermelon, and celery, can aid in reducing swelling.

When to Seek Medical Attention

While mild swelling in the feet and ankles is often harmless and can be managed with home remedies, certain situations warrant medical attention. It is important to consult a healthcare professional if:

  • The swelling is sudden and severe
  • There is accompanying pain or redness
  • Swelling is present in only one leg
  • There is a history of heart or kidney problems

These symptoms may indicate an underlying condition that requires prompt medical evaluation.

In conclusion, swelling in the feet and ankles can be caused by various factors such as water retention, poor circulation, or injury. By understanding the underlying causes and implementing appropriate remedies and treatments, individuals can effectively reduce swelling and alleviate discomfort. It is important to maintain a healthy lifestyle, seek medical attention when necessary, and follow the advice of healthcare professionals to ensure optimal foot and ankle health.

Haroon Rashid, MD
Rate author
Urgent Care Center of Arlington, VA
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