Are Your Swollen Feet Slowing You Down? Here’s How to Pick Up the Pace

Swollen feet could be a mild condition from standing too long or walking too much. But it can also be a symptom of more serious health conditions.

Pedicured feet with red nail polish, left side swollen, right side normal

Swollen feet can be the symptom of numerous conditions, from mild, daily annoyances to more serious health conditions. Usually, an oedema or injury causes swelling. Your body responds to external injury with swelling as an inflammatory response. It will then begin the healing process as it pulls blood toward the site of injury.

The term ‘oedema’ describes the retention of fluid in your body, which happens due to several conditions. Oedema itself is not a disease but it can be a sign of other complications. 

Don’t Rule Out These Straightforward Causes  

A sprained ankle or other similar joint-related injuries usually cause swelling at the site of the injury due to the inflammatory response of your body. Meanwhile, the way your body prevents blood and fluids from pooling at your feet is by having the veins in your legs pump fluids back to your heart to normalise circulation.

When you stand or walk for a long time, you’re giving gravity a lot of time to be pulling fluids in your body towards your feet, causing swelling. If you’re older and swollen feet are a regular thing for you, you may have venous insufficiency. That means that the valves of the veins in your legs are getting weaker and unable to pump blood back up to the heart quickly enough. 

Calcium channel blockers for high blood pressure, and certain diabetes medication can cause swollen feet as a side effect. Also, steroids, including androgenic, anabolic, and corticosteroids can sometimes cause swollen feet as a side effect. These are usually prescribed to help with inflammation. The same goes to non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), if your body has a particular sensitivity to them. Finally, antidepressants could be the culprit too. 

Pregnancy or Being Overweight  

In pregnant women, the growing foetus in the uterus puts extra pressure on the mother’s body, pushing fluids down to the feet. So swollen feet is a common complaint. Similarly, people who are overweight carry extra body mass more than their musculoskeletal system can healthily handle. The pressure pushes fluids down toward the feet.

There could be other more serious reasons for swollen feet in pregnant and obese people. Unusual swelling in pregnant women could be a sign of preeclampsia, which is when the body produces fluids that suddenly and significantly raise blood pressure. If left untreated, it may lead to organ failure.  

Preeclampsia can be fatal to mothers and their babies, hence it must be addressed immediately. Being overweight to the point of obesity naturally comes with other serious health conditions, so swollen feet could be part of the whole package. It is important to address the causes of obesity itself. 

It Can Be a Sign of More Serious Conditions

Illustration of a human’s upper body showing internal organs in the torso
Swollen feet could be a sign of troubled internal organs.

Deep-vein thrombosis is a condition where blood clots deep in the veins of the legs, preventing blood from going back to the heart. It causes swelling in the legs and feet. If left untreated, these clots could break away and travel up the body and into the lungs, causing pulmonary embolism, which can be fatal.

As the clots typically happen only in one leg and not both, you’ll still have to get it checked by a doctor. Swollen feet may also be related to liver disease. A malfunctioning liver that’s not producing enough of the protein albumin allows fluid in the blood to pass into tissues. This causes swelling not just in the feet, but also in other parts of your legs, hands, and face.

Too much salt intake is usually the cause of swelling in the body. The kidneys will try to maintain the right ratio of salt to water. One of the main functions of the kidneys is to regulate fluid in the body. Swollen feet could also be a sign that your kidneys are in trouble. So get them checked, especially if you have a history of kidney problems in your family. 

Addressing and Preventing Swollen Feet  

Whether the causes of your swollen feet are easily treatable or not, there are some things you can immediately do to relieve the pain. If prolonged standing or walking are the culprits, reducing the effect of gravity on your legs can help. Keep your feet elevated above your heart by placing pillows comfortably under your knees and feet. Swelling due to inflammation in response to injury will also react well to elevation.

Compression socks can be very helpful with reducing oedema or preventing it. The socks also work against gravity to prevent fluids from pooling in your feet. Another preventive measure is reducing your salt intake, especially if too much of it caused the swelling in the first place.

What TCM Says About Swollen Feet

Poria cocos herbs on a table with Chinese medicine texts
Poria cocos is a type of fungus that can help with relieving fluid retention in the body

According to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) physician Kong Teck Chuan, many things can cause an oedema, including a Spleen yang (active energy), a Kidney yang Deficiency, or a combination of both, Wind affecting the Lung, sores attacking the inner, external cause of Dampness, a poor diet, chronic illnesses, and deficient Jing Qi from birth.

This in turn leads to excessive retention of phlegm Dampness within the body. If left untreated, the condition can negatively influence the Heart and Liver. Depending on the underlying cause and syndrome differentiation, a TCM regimen may include some combination of TCM herbs, acupuncture, moxibustion, and tui na massage.

Physician Kong identifies a few potential TCM herbs that are able to help with fluid movement and proper draining. Rice bean or Vigna umbellata (chi xiao dou, 赤小豆) induces movement of the retained fluids, facilitating urination to reduce the swelling. Coix pearl barley (yi yi ren, 薏苡仁) also has a Heat clearing effect that can help with oedema.

A type of fungus called Chinese root or Poria cocos (fu ling, 茯苓) promotes urination and relieve fluid Stagnation, draining Dampness while harmonising and strengthening the Spleen. 

Meanwhile, corn silk acts as a diuretic and helps purge Heat. “Please be sure to work with a licensed TCM practitioner as even herbs can have side effects. For example, corn silk also decreases blood sugar. Taking it together with your diabetes medication may cause your blood sugar to drop too low,” he alerts.

Swollen feet are a combination of gravity doing its thing and our bodies being pushed a little beyond its limits. Some rest, elevation, and TCM medicine can take care of your swollen feet. At the same time, take note that it can also be your body’s way of telling you something is seriously wrong. As always, check with your doctor just to be on the safe side. 

References

  1. Cleveland Clinic. 2018. Edema. [online] [Accessed 23 February 2022]. 
  2. Harvard Medical School. 2018. What’s causing those swollen feet?. [online] [Accessed 23 February 2022]. 
  3. Medicine. 2019. Successful treatment of refractory edema with traditional herbal medicine: A case report. [online] [Accessed 23 February 2022]. 
  4. Antioxidants (Multidisciplinary Digital Publishing Institute). 2022. Protection against Neurological Symptoms by Consuming Corn Silk Water Extract in Artery-Occluded Gerbils with Reducing Oxidative Stress, Inflammation, and Post-Stroke Hyperglycemia through the Gut-Brain Axis. [online] [Accessed 23 February 2022]. 
  5. Alliance Foot and Ankle Specialists. How Meds Can Affect Your Feet. [online] [Accessed 23 February 2022]. 

Share this article on

Was This Article Useful to You?

Related Articles

Woman lies in bed with menstrual cramps holding a heating pad over her abdomen
Health & Balance

Try These 5 Natural Methods to Ease Menstrual Cramps

Menstrual cramps are nearly every woman’s monthly ordeal. The good news is while they are not entirely unavoidable, there are ways to ease them naturally.

Read More

The contents of the All Things Health website are for informational and educational purposes only.
Our website is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.