What Does It Mean When Your Lower Legs and Ankles Swell?

Reviewed on 8/4/2022

A swollen ankle on an elderly woman
Lower leg and ankle swelling can be caused by standing or sitting in the same position for a prolonged period, excess salt in the diet, kidney/liver/heart problems, blood clots (such as deep vein thrombosis [DVT]), preeclampsia, arthritis, lymphedema, alcoholism, and others.

Lower leg and ankle swelling can be symptoms of many different conditions, some of which are minor and will resolve on their own with rest or home treatment, and others that need to be treated medically.

Common causes of lower leg and ankle swelling include:

What Are Symptoms of Lower Leg and Ankle Swelling?

Lower leg and ankle swelling may be accompanied by: 

  • Swollen or puffy feet or legs
  • Pain or tenderness
  • Skin redness or other changes in skin color
  • Shiny, stretched skin

Call 911 or get to a hospital’s emergency department (do not drive yourself) if you have lower leg and ankle swelling and: 

  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Chest pain, tightness, or heaviness

What Is the Treatment for Lower Leg and Ankle Swelling?

Treatment for lower leg and ankle swelling depends on the cause. 

Home remedies to reduce or prevent swelling in the lower legs and ankles includes: 

  • Don’t stand or sit for prolonged periods
  • Lie down and prop up the swollen ankles above the level of the heart
  • Gentle exercise, such as walking, to help improve blood flow
  • Wear wide, comfortable shoes with a low heel and soft sole
  • Avoid wearing tight clothing, socks, or shoes 
  • Reduce salt consumption 
  • Lose weight if overweight or obese

Treatment lower leg and ankle swelling due to kidney, liver, or heart problems includes: 

  • Treating the underlying condition
  • Reducing the amount of salt (sodium) in the diet
  • Diuretics to eliminate excess fluid
  • Compression stockings

Treatment for lower leg and ankle swelling due to injury such as a sprain or strain includes:

  • RICE method
    • Rest: keep weight off the knee
    • Ice: to decrease pain, swelling, and redness
    • Compression: to support the knee and prevent inflammation
    • Elevation: propped up the affected leg to help reduce fluid buildup 
  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) for pain
  • Range of motion exercises (depending on the type of injury)
  • Splints and braces
  • Surgery

Treatment for lower leg and ankle swelling due to arthritis and other autoimmune conditions depends on the condition and may include:

  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
  • Steroids
  • Disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs)

Treatment for lower leg and ankle swelling due to pregnancy or pregnancy complications includes:

  • The only treatment is delivery
  • If preeclampsia occurs before term, there is an attempt to delay delivery to 37 weeks 
  • Home remedies may help relieve some swelling and discomfort

Treatment for lower leg and ankle swelling due to blood clots includes:

  • Anticoagulants
  • Inferior vena cava (IVC) filter 
  • Thrombolytic therapy, in severe cases

Treatment for lower leg and ankle swelling due to infection depends on the type of infection and may include:

  • Wound cleansing and management
  • Antibiotics
  • Surgery
  • Treating an ingrown toenail by lifting the nail or by partially removing it, or removing the nail and tissue in more severe cases
  • Antifungal cream/lotion/gel to treat athlete’s foot

Treatment for lower leg and ankle swelling due to lymphedema includes:

  • Skin care
  • Weight management
  • Compression therapy (i.e., compression bandaging, compression garments)
  • Physiotherapy
  • Surgery, in severe cases

Treatment for lower leg and ankle swelling due to medication side effects includes:

  • Stopping or switching medications or changing the dosage or regimen
  • Don’t stop taking prescribed medication or change the dose or regimen without first talking to your doctor

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Reviewed on 8/4/2022
References
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Image source: iStock Images

https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/oedema/

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