Swollen Ankles & Legs: Causes, Treatments and Relief

By Med-Fit UK Content Team  .  Last Updated Wednesday, 18th October 2023

Swelling commonly occurs in the feet, ankles, and legs due to the gravitational impact on bodily fluids. However, fluid buildup in these areas isn't solely attributed to gravity; injuries and consequent inflammation can also lead to fluid retention and swelling.

When a foot, ankle, or leg is swollen, it can cause an abnormal enlargement of the lower limb. Mobility may be impaired due to the swelling, causing discomfort with tightness and stretching of the skin over the leg.

Typically, this swelling is temporary and doesn't pose a significant concern. Nevertheless, taking steps to mitigate the swelling is important, aiming to alleviate any associated discomfort and return to regular activities.

If the swelling persists in specific parts of your lower leg or if you experience additional symptoms, it may indicate an underlying health issue. Identifying the root cause of the swelling is essential to rule out potential serious conditions.

Causes of Swollen Ankles and Legs

Lower leg swelling primarily stems from either edema, an accumulation of excess fluid in the body's tissues, or inflammation, the immune system's response to injury, infection, or disease.

Edema is a common condition characterized by tissue swelling and puffiness in the feet, ankles, legs, hands, and arms due to fluid retention.  This condition often exhibits symptoms such as stretched or shiny skin, along with difficulties in walking. In some cases, pressing on the skin may leave a temporary dimple, known as pitting edema.

Edema, characterized by swelling in various parts of the body, can sometimes indicate an underlying serious medical condition. 

Some illnesses associated with edema are:

  • Congestive Heart Failure: Congestive heart failure disrupts proper blood pumping from the heart's lower chambers, leading to blood accumulation in the legs, ankles, and feet, resulting in edema. It can also cause swelling in the abdominal area and fluid buildup in the lungs, known as pulmonary edema, leading to breathing difficulties.|
  • Liver Damage (Cirrhosis): Cirrhosis-induced liver damage can cause fluid retention in the stomach area and legs, referred to as ascites.

  • Kidney Disease: Kidney disease can cause an accumulation of fluid and salts in the blood, resulting in edema, primarily observed in the legs and around the eyes.

  • Kidney Damage (Nephrotic Syndrome): Damage to the filtering blood vessels in the kidneys can lead to nephrotic syndrome, reducing blood protein levels and causing edema.

  • Vein Weakness or Damage (Chronic Venous Insufficiency): Chronic venous insufficiency damages the one-way valves in the leg veins, causing blood to pool and resulting in leg swelling.

  • Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT): DVT, characterized by sudden leg swelling and calf muscle pain, can occur due to a blood clot in the leg veins, necessitating immediate medical attention.

  • Lymphatic System Dysfunction: Dysfunction of the body's lymphatic system, often caused by factors like cancer surgery, can impair fluid drainage from tissues.

Various factors contribute to edema, ranging from everyday activities to certain life circumstances. 

These can include:

  • older age
  • being overweight
  • prolonged standing or sitting
  • exposure to hot weather

Inflammation, on the other hand, can be acute or chronic and is typically accompanied by pain, warmth, redness, or reduced function in the affected area.

Swelling in the lower legs occurs when blood or fluid accumulates, with identifiable triggers like salty meals, pregnancy, prolonged periods of standing or sitting. However, sometimes the causes of lower-leg swelling indicate underlying health conditions related to the circulatory system, heart, or kidneys.

Venous insufficiency, lymphedema, heart failure, and kidney disease are prominent underlying health conditions associated with lower extremity edema. Venous insufficiency often manifests as swelling in both feet and ankles, fluctuating throughout the day. 

Lymphedema, conversely, causes persistent, often asymmetric swelling. Heart failure leads to swelling in both legs due to blood backup, often appearing suddenly in individuals with known heart issues. Kidney disease can cause sudden, widespread swelling involving the feet, ankles, hands, and face due to inefficient fluid filtration by the kidneys. 

Treatments Available for Swollen Ankles and Legs

Let's begin with a home-based approach, which is cost-effective and may aid in alleviating symptoms without the need for medication or other medical interventions. 

Here are some recommendations to help reduce swelling:

  • Elevate Your Legs: Place your legs on pillows to elevate them above heart level while lying down. This can facilitate the reduction of swelling.
  • Leg Exercises: Engage in leg exercises to assist in moving fluid from your legs back to your heart, aiding in alleviating swelling.
  • Adopt a Low-Sodium Diet: Opt for a low-salt diet, as it may help in minimizing fluid retention and decreasing swelling.
  • Use Support Stockings: Consider wearing support stockings, which are readily available at most drugstores and medical supply outlets. These can provide relief from swelling.
  • Take Breaks During Travel: If you're traveling, take frequent breaks to stand up and move around. This helps in managing swelling associated with prolonged periods of sitting.
  • Avoid Tight Clothing: Refrain from wearing tight clothing or garters around your thighs, as they may contribute to constriction and worsen swelling.
  • Maintain a Healthy Weight: If necessary, work towards weight loss, as maintaining a healthy weight can have a positive impact on reducing swelling.

When you’ve tried all these, or maybe prefer to look at alternatives right away - the below may help. 

  1. Tens Conductive Electrodes for Knee & Lower Leg: These socks are medical grade conductive material. They allow for a current to be passed through from a Tens Machine, this then allows for treatment in your lower legs. 
  2. Tens Conductive Electrodes for Lower Leg & Foot: These other conductive socks are fantastic for lowers and your feet, they’re for treating pain relief, rheumatoid pain, swelling, sports injuries and more. 
  3. Medi-Booster: Our latest product improves your blood circulation, helps with plantar fasciitis, reduces swelling in the legs and ankles, relieves persistent leg aches and pains.
  4. Compression Ankle Supports: For individuals seeking to diminish ankle swelling, Ankle Supports prove highly beneficial. Our Stride Flex ankle supports, equipped with 4-way compression, enhance blood circulation. When securely fastened around the ankle, they contribute to improved lymph drainage and stability, effectively supporting the load on your ankle.