Heather Hanks
Written by Heather Hanks

Reviewed by Dr Eki Wari and Physician Kong Teck Chuan on June 12, 2022

What’s Causing Your Swollen Feet?

Swollen feet can be treated at home using natural remedies, but it's always a good idea to check with your doctor to determine the cause. Learn more here.

Swollen feet min scaled

Swollen feet can do more than slow you down. They can also indicate a more serious health complication, including an injury, a blood circulation disorder, or fluid retention.

Luckily, there are several things you can do at home to help relieve the pain and discomfort, allowing you to get back on your feet again.

Our experts explain what might be causing your swollen feet and helpful ways to bring the swelling down in this guide.

What Causes Swollen Feet?

Being pregnant or carrying excessive weight may cause swollen feet.

Here are some possible causes for your swollen feet:

An underlying injury

A sprained ankle or other similar joint-related injuries usually cause swelling at the site of the injury. This is due to the inflammatory response of your body.

Circulatory problems

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 normalize 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 toward your feet, causing swelling.

If you’re older and swollen feet are a regular thing for you, you may have venous insufficiency. This occurs when the valves of the veins in your legs get weaker and are unable to pump blood back up to the heart quickly enough. 

Certain medications

Calcium channel blockers for high blood pressure and certain diabetes medications 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 for non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) if your body has a particular sensitivity to them. Finally, antidepressants could be the culprit too. 

Pregnancy or carrying excessive weight

In pregnant women, the growing fetus in the uterus puts extra pressure on the mother’s body, pushing fluids down to the feet. This is because there is an increase in the volume of blood and fluids in the body. Additionally, the weight of the uterus slows the movement of blood from the legs to the heart (so, it does not push the fluids). So, swollen feet are 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. This is because fluids are not being pushed down and their flow is being slowed down.

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. This 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.

Therefore, swollen feet could be part of the whole package. It is important to address the causes of obesity itself. 

Serious Health Risks Of Swollen Feet

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 a 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.

How To Prevent Swollen Feet

Elevating your feet is a good way to reduce swelling, especially if it’s due to an injury.

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 in reducing edema 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 Does TCM Say About Swollen Feet?

According to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) Physician Kong Teck Chuan, many things can cause edema or swollen feet. This includes Spleen Yang (active energy), a Kidney Yang Deficiency, or a combination of both.

Other possible causes include 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 tuina massage.

Using a pain relief herbal plaster on your legs can help promote circulation to your feet, reducing swelling. It works by removing Dampness from the body, warming the channels to alleviate pain.

Herbal remedies you can use

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) induces movement of the retained fluids, facilitating urination to reduce the swelling. Coix pearl barley (Yi Yi Ren) also has a Heat clearing effect that can help with edema.

A type of fungus called Chinese root or Poria cocos (Fu Ling) promotes urination and relieves Fluid Stagnation, draining Dampness while harmonizing and strengthening the Spleen. 

Taking American Ginseng and Tian Qi (Panax notoginseng) may also help promote circulation to reduce swelling and alleviate pain.

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 their 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. 

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