Swollen feet can catch you off guard at any point during your life. And since it’s often not painful, it can be tricky to pinpoint what’s causing swollen feet and ankles. Simple lifestyle factors can play a major role, but additional symptoms often indicate a more serious health concern.
Feet swelling is the result of two occurrences:
- Edema: The medical term for swelling. It occurs due to fluid buildup under the skin.
- Inflammation: Your body’s healing process to foreign invaders and injuries. Foot swelling can also occur for other reasons unrelated to inflammation.
When excessive fluid builds and gets trapped in your body’s tissues, your feet become puffy under the skin. Furthermore, if you press on swollen feet with your fingers, they will often retain the shape, similar to memory foam. Foot and ankle swelling can also make the skin look shiny or stretchy.
Now it’s time to discuss some common causes of swollen feet. Some of these can be solved with lifestyle changes and healthy living, while others may require medical intervention and appointments with your chiropodist.
5 Swollen Feet Causes
- Foot injuries
- Prolonged standing
- Inflammatory foods and weight gain
Often, edema results from inflammation. This is our body’s response to trying to protect us from harmful invaders. When your body senses danger, it releases chemicals from its white blood cells, boosting blood flow to the affected area and causing swelling and redness.
Since injury-related swelling is the body’s attempt to heal itself, it can last for a few months following injury. Additionally, inflammation-related foot swelling is almost always accompanied by pain, redness, reduced mobility and sometimes a warm feeling in the skin.
If you practice at-home treatment methods (rest, elevation, ice, compression) and visit your doctor, your foot swelling will go down as your injury heals.
The simple effects of gravity on our vascular system can cause your feet and ankles to swell. If you spend consecutive hours standing up, the water in our blood enters the tissue in the feet and lower legs, causing edema.
Neglecting to move and continuing to stand for long periods is bad for older adults since it contributes to venous insufficiency. This condition arises when the vein valves in the legs become even more unable to stop blood from pooling.
Sometimes an adjustment to your work schedule and making some lifestyle changes is all you need to address swollen feet. Be sure to rest tired, aching feet and relax for a while if you notice mild swelling after a long day.
Going through nine months of pregnancy can do wild things to the human body, with foot swelling being just one change pregnant women experience.
If you notice foot swelling during pregnancy, rest assured that it’s normal. First, the growing uterus puts much more stress on the veins than usual, contributing to vascular inefficiencies. Your hormones, particularly estrogen, are also so out of whack that they cause fluid retention in the ankles and feet.
Mild edema is common for pregnant women, but if it’s sudden, severe and causes pain, you should see your doctor. Many women experience relief when they stay off their feet, gently flex and stretch their feet and wear compression stockings. Wearing loose socks and pants can also help promote blood flow.
High blood sugar often causes localized edema in the feet and ankles. When you don’t have natural insulin in the body, you’re not able to absorb sugars. This causes glucose levels to build, affecting the lining of small blood vessels and reducing blood flow. This poor blood circulation then impedes the body’s ability to distribute fluid and it gets trapped in the feet and ankles.
Inflammatory Foods and Weight Gain
Inflammatory foot swelling doesn’t just occur with injuries and infections. Eating refined carbohydrates, sodas, fried/salty foods and red meat are all known to cause inflammation in the body.
Fried foods produce advanced glycation end products (AGEs), stimulating inflammation. Red and processed meats are also full of AGEs, and too much sugar triggers excessive, fast weight gain and insulin resistance, both associated with inflammation. And of course, several studies highlight how too much salt can cause an increased inflammatory response in the body.
You can stop harming your health and fight foot swelling by choosing foods that fight inflammation. Some examples include:
- Olive oil
- Fatty fish (like salmon)
- Leafy vegetables
Additional Swollen Feet Causes
- Gout: This painful arthritic condition can cause sudden swelling and tenderness.
- Age: Adults are more at risk of developing diseases that contribute to edema as they get older. Some examples include heart, liver or kidney disease.
- Lymphedema: Damage or blocking of the body’s lymph system can trigger edema in the feet and ankles.
- Blood clots: When clotting occurs in the legs it can prevent blood from returning back up to the heart, triggering swollen feet.
- Medications: Blood pressure medicine, steroids, antidepressants, NSAIDs, and oral contraceptives have all been linked to foot swelling.