What Causes the Ankles to Swell?

Written by
Emily Carver

What causes the ankles to swell?

Swelling in the lower legs and ankles, also known as edema (oedema), is a common condition experienced by many people in older age. Edema is caused by excess fluid trapped in the body’s tissues and is most commonly found in your extremities. What causes the ankles to swell? Well, there are a wide variety of factors that could be at play. Whilst in most cases ankle swelling is benign, it’s important to be aware of the causes and any potential signs of risk to notify your GP. 

What are the common causes of swollen ankles and feet?

Whilst the condition is common, you may still be wondering ‘what causes your ankles to swell and hurt?’. There are a few different causes ranging from lifestyle to medical conditions. Here are some of the top known ankle swelling causes to look out for and be aware of. 

Sitting or standing for long periods

If your muscles go for long periods of time with inactivity, it makes it more difficult for them to pump blood and fluids back up towards the heart. This can lead to water and blood retention which leads to swelling in the legs. To combat this during the day, try to stand up and gently move around at least once an hour. 

A lack of movement whilst you sleep could be what causes feet and ankles to swell at night. However, your circulation can be supported with an adjustable bed or rise and recliner chair to help keep your feet elevated at a comfortable height. 

Being overweight

Excess body mass can put stress on the joints which can lead to fluid retention around the joints. Overweight people may also experience decreased blood circulation which can cause fluid to build up in the lower legs.

Diet

Too much salty food in your diet can cause your body to hold onto water which can lead to swelling and bloating.

Images of nuts and crisps. Salty snacks that what be causes swelling in the ankles.

Pregnancy

What causes ankles to swell during pregnancy? There are a couple of different answers to this question so it’s important to keep an eye out for these if you’re expecting. 

Natural hormonal changes including fluctuating levels of estrogen and progesterone could be making you experience reduced circulation in the legs, which leads to swelling. Preeclampsia is a condition that occurs in pregnant women typically after 20 weeks which affects the placenta and causes high blood pressure. If you are concerned about having preeclampsia it is essential that you speak with your GP as soon as possible. 

Medication

You may need to check the information on your medication or with your GP to see if your prescriptions could be causing your ankles to swell. Here are a few common medications that could be what causes your feet and ankles to swell

  • Ibuprofen 
  • Asprin
  • Estrogen or Testosterone
  • Antidepressants
  • Steroids

    Older persons hand holding pills. Medication could be causing ankles to swell

    Injury 

    If you have an injury or an infection that affects your lower body and ankles, it could cause increased blood flow to that area which leads to swelling. 

    Venous insufficiency

    This is a condition that occurs when your veins have trouble pumping blood around the body which can lead to blood pooling in the legs. 

    Cirrhosis

    Cirrhosis refers to the scarring (fibrosis) of the liver, caused by long-term liver damage. This can come from alcohol abuse or an infection like hepatitis B or C. Cirrhosis can cause high blood pressure which leads to poor circulation in the extremities. 

    Blood Clots

    Blood clots can form in the veins of your legs which leads to impaired blood flow. This could be the root cause of ankle swelling and discomfort. If you are concerned at all about blood clots, please do contact your GP. 

    Should I be concerned about my swollen ankles?

    It is estimated that there are roughly 400,000 people in the UK living with swollen ankles or oedema meaning it is a relatively common condition. While some of the causes listed above may only require lifestyle maintenance and adaptations, others will require a visit to the doctors. 

    Following the NHS official recommendations, if you are experiencing any of the following, it is recommended that you contact your GP. 

    • 1 or both of your ankles, foot or legs are swollen

    AND 

    • The ankle swelling has not improved at home after a few days
    • The ankle swelling has gotten worse

    The NHS recommends that you for an urgent GP appointment or get help from NHS 111 if:

    • you have swelling in 1 ankle, foot or leg and there's no obvious cause, such as an injury
    • the ankle swelling is severe, painful or starts very suddenly
    • the swollen ankle is red or feels hot to the touch
    • your temperature is very high, or you feel hot and shivery
    • you have diabetes and your feet, ankles or legs are swollen

    Please call 999 if:

    • you feel short of breath or are struggling to breathe
    • your chest feels tight, heavy or painful
    • you're coughing up blood

      What can you do to ease swelling, yourself

      To help ease the swelling in your ankles you could try these simple solutions at home. 

      Raise your legs

      Putting your feet up and having a rest is great for helping swollen ankles. It may sound simple, and even a little too good to be true, but it really is backed by science. By elevating your feet six inches above your heart, you can reduce swelling in the lower body and improve your blood circulation. Your current settee or bed may not be giving you the elevated support that you need, but there are plenty of products built with your health and comfort as a priority. For example, Middletons has a range of adjustable beds, and rise and recline chairs to help you keep your feet elevated and reduce swelling in your ankles.

      Woman lying on a Middletons rise and recliner to help with ankles swelling

      Improve blood flow through exercise

      Cardiovascular activity is great for promoting a healthy lifestyle and improving your posture and blood flow which leads to a reduction in swelling in the ankles. You may find that activities like walking, cycling, swimming or dancing could all help to improve your circulation. Additionally, if you have limited mobility you may be able to try some gentle exercises that you can do sitting to support a healthy lifestyle. 

      Don’t wear tight clothes and shoes

      Did you know that tight clothing could be what causes ankles to swell? Where possible, try to avoid wearing tight clothing, socks or shoes that could be cutting off your circulation. Alternatively, consider some comfortable loose slippers at home or soft slip-on shoes for use outside of the house. 

      Wear compression gloves or stockings

      Compression and heat are known to support blood circulation, so you could try a set of compression gloves or stockings to help your ankle swelling. 

      woman putting on compression stockings to help with swelling in ankles

      We hope that this article has helped to answer some of your questions about what causes ankles to swell. The Middletons team are trained mobility specialists and are always on hand to answer questions and advise on mobility solutions for your unique needs.

      Rediscover your independence with Middletons and request your FREE brochure

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