When to Worry About Swollen Feet and What You Can Do About Them

Posted by on Friday, September 28th, 2012

It’s normal for your feet to swell up a little during the day–after all, you spend most of your time putting weight on your feet by walking or allowing fluids to settle in them by sitting. In fact, we always advise shopping for shoes late in the day to make sure you buy shoes that will fit at 5:00 pm as well as 9:00 am. It’s also not unusual for your feet to swell more than normal if you’ve put extra stress on them, for example standing at an event for several hours, or hiking a long trail while on vacation. It’s certainly normal (though not pleasant) for your feet to swell during pregnancy.

However, it’s not normal for your feet to swell up a noticeable amount, enough that you really can’t fit into your shoes at the end of the day without pain. It’s not normal for the swelling to last a long time.

 

There are many possible causes for swollen feet. The simplest is that you may have a foot injury and don’t realize it; one clue that this may be the problem is if one foot is swelling and the other isn’t. If this is the case, you should see a podiatrist at The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine (212.996.1900) to have your foot examined for a possible broken bone or torn ligament or tendons.

In most cases, though, the swelling comes from excess liquid trapped in your feet and ankles. Normally blood and lymphatic fluid travel down to your feet and then back up again. If your body can’t move that fluid away from your feet, your feet swell. The technical term for this is peripheral edema–peripheral refers to lower body and edema refers to swelling. Edema is described as either pitting or non-pitting; pitting means that if pressure is applied to a swollen area (pressure from a finger for example), a dent will remain for a bit after the pressure is removed.

Some possible causes  of swollen feet include:

  • conditions such as congestive heart failure, kidney disease, or liver disease;
  • blood flow problems such as varicose veins, peripheral vascular disease, thrombophlebitis, deep vein thrombosis;
  • generalized edema, or swelling throughout the entire body;
  • infections, such as diabetic or venous ulcers;
  • an overly salty diet;
  • lack of movement (sitting in one position for too long);
  • standing too long;
  • being overweight.

Swollen feet are usually a symptom of another problem in your body, so it’s important to work with your podiatrist and your doctor to try to find the cause and treat that. Until then, here are some things you can do to help your swollen feet: ‘

Get up If you sit a lot during the day, get up and move around whenever you can, even if it’s just a short walk around the office. This will help increase the blood flow. If you’re on a long flight, also take the opportunity to get up and walk around the cabin of the plane.

Add support If your swelling comes from a job where you have to stand a lot, see a podiatrist about orthotics that can add support to your feet. Support stockings, which help increase the blood flow in your legs, are another aid you can use.

Drink water Drinking a lot of water will help excess fluids pass through your body (upside: all those trips to the restroom will also get you up and away from sitting at your desk).

Elevate Sit or lie down in a way that allows you to elevate your feet above your heart for about ten to fifteen minutes, about three to four times a day. You can also use wedge pillows to elevate your feet while you’re in bed.

Lose weight Excess pounds can contribute to many foot problems, including swollen feet and ankles. If you’re overweight and your swelling feet are bothering you, try to make the effort to lose some weight and take pressure off your feet. Losing weight is never easy but the payoff of pain-free feet will make it all worth it.

Change your diet Cut back on salt, which makes you retain water. Putting your salt shaker away is a start, but you should also start looking at the labels of packaged foods and condiments that you buy; you may be shocked at how high the sodium content is in many of these items. Don’t worry that cutting salt will lead to flavorless food–instead use this as an opportunity to experiment with different herbs and spices that can replace salt.

I also should note that while researching this topic, I found a message board discussion where a number of people said their swollen feet problem improved when they cut gluten out of their diets. If you’re trying to figure out what is causing your swollen feet, you might want to try a gluten-free week and see if that helps.

Swollen feet are painful and annoying, but you should also take them seriously. Your feet are trying to tell you something about the rest of you!

If you have any foot problems or pain, contact The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports MedicineDr. Josef J. GeldwertDr. Katherine Lai, and Dr. Ryan Minara have helped thousands of people get back on their feet. Unfortunately, we cannot give diagnoses or treatment advice online. Please make an appointment to see us if you live in the NY metropolitan area or seek out a podiatrist in your area.