The ankles and legs are common sources of swelling because of the pull of gravity on the fluids in your body. However, fluid retention is not the only cause of a swollen ankle or leg. Injuries and subsequent inflammation can cause the fluid retention.
A swollen ankle or leg can cause the lower leg to appear larger in size than normal. This can make it difficult to walk, make the skin feel tight and stretched over your leg, and cause pain. While the condition is not always cause for concern, knowing the cause can help you or your doctor rule out a more serious problem.
Foot EvaluationDuring a foot evaluation, the doctor will conduct a physical exam and ask about your symptoms. Where is the swelling? Are there factors that make it worse? The doctor might also ask for more extensive tests.
Ankle SprainAn ankle sprain is a painful injury to the ankle ligaments and normally happens when the ankle is turned or twisted. Swelling, tenderness, and bruising are common symptoms.
Ankle BruisingAn ankle bruise might be the result of a blow, but it may be a sign of an ankle disorder or serious injury. If you can't put weight on your ankle or have intense pain, you may need to see a doctor.
Leg Evaluation and MassageA leg evaluation can tell your doctor if swelling is normal or a sign of an underlying health issue. If your swelling is getting worse and home remedies don't work, you should schedule a physical exam.
Foot Bruising and SwellingGravity makes swelling more apparent in the lower body. Swelling may simply be a result of standing too long or taking certain medications. But swelling and bruising can indicate other health problems.
Leg EdemaEdema is the buildup of fluid that causes swelling. It is not usually painful, unless it is due to injury. Pregnancy, menstrual changes, blood clot, and infection can all cause leg edema.
Charcot ArthropathyDescription: Charcot Arthropathy, also called Charcot foot and ankle, occurs in patients with neuropathy. Neuropathy results from diabetes, syphilis, chronic alcoholism, and other conditions. In this disease, the foot experiences swelling, fractures, and dislocations faster than it can heal.
Ankle SwellingDescription: Common causes for ankle swelling include standing for long periods, being confined for long periods, hormone treatment, antidepressants, blood pressure medication, and being overweight.
Ankle EdemaDescription: Edema and swelling of the ankle, leg, and feet, can frequently affect older people. It does not usually pose a health risk, but it may indicate a deeper health issue.
Ligament TearDescription: Ligaments hold bones together. A ligament tear can cause swelling, bruising, and pain. You can prevent tears and sprains by wrapping the ankle before exercise, wearing a brace, and wearing good shoes.
Deep Vein ThrombosisDescription: This serious condition occurs when a blog clot forms in a deep vein, most commonly in the thigh or lower leg. Also called DVT, it may cause swelling, cramping, and pain. A blood clot can cause serious damage if it moves into your lungs.
DVTDescription: DVT occurs most commonly in people over 60 years old. Some possible causes of DVT are vein-damaging injury, being overweight, family history, and smoking.
Foot SwellingDescription: You can try many different ways to treat foot swelling at home, such as elevating your legs when you lie down, reducing salt intake, exercising, and using support stalkings. But if your swelling is getting worse, you should see a doctor.
If you have a job that requires you to stand for a significant portion of the day, you may experience a swollen ankle or leg. Older people are more likely to experience this problem as well. A long airplane flight or car ride may also cause a swollen angle, leg, and/or foot.
Certain medical conditions can also cause a swollen ankle and/or leg. These include:
- being overweight
- venous insufficiency
- rheumatoid arthritis
- blood clot in the leg
- heart failure
- kidney failure
- leg infection
- liver failure
- previous surgery, such as pelvic, leg, ankle, or foot surgery
Taking certain medications can also lead to a swollen ankle and/or leg. These include:
- antidepressants, including phenelzine, nortriptyline, and amitriptyline
- calcium channel blockers used to treat high blood pressure, including nifedipine, amlodipine, and verapamil
- hormone medications, such as birth control pills, estrogen, or testosterone
Inflammation due to acute or chronic injury can also cause a swollen ankle and/or leg. Conditions that can cause this effect include:
- ankle sprain
- broken leg
- Achilles tendon rupture
- ACL tear
Seek emergency medical care if you experience a swollen ankle and/or leg accompanied by heart-related symptoms. These can include chest pain, trouble breathing, dizziness, or mental confusion.
You should also seek emergency treatment if you notice a deformity or crookedness to the ankle that was not previously there. If an injury prevents you from putting weight on your leg, this is also cause for concern,
If you are pregnant, seek immediate medical attention if you have symptoms associated with preeclampsia or dangerously high blood pressure. This includes severe headaches, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, and very little urine output.
Seek medical attention if at-home treatments do not help to reduce swelling or if discomfort increases.
This information is a summary. Always seek medical attention if you are concerned you may be experiencing a medical emergency.
If you seek medical attention for a swollen ankle and leg, your physician will likely determine what is causing your symptoms. Testing may include blood tests, an X-ray, electrocardiogram, and urinalysis.
If swelling is caused by a medical condition, such as congestive heart failure, a physician may prescribe diuretics. These medications affect the kidneys and stimulate them to release fluids.
Swelling due to injury may require resetting a bone, placing a cast, or even surgery to repair the injured area.
If your swollen ankle or leg is painful, a doctor may prescribe a pain reliever or recommend an over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medication, such as ibuprofen or naproxen sodium.
To treat a swollen ankle or leg at home, remember the acronym RICE: rest, ice, compression, and elevation. The elevation in particular helps to encourage fluid return away from your leg. Your ankle should be higher than your heart if you are lying down.
If you are traveling or are on your feet frequently, wearing support stockings can encourage fluid return. Refrain from wearing tight shoes or clothing that can affect circulation. Walking, especially if you are on a long flight, can help to encourage fluid return.
If you have a medical condition that can lead to a swollen ankle or leg, careful management of symptoms and taking your medications on time can prevent the condition. Patients with congestive heart failure or kidney disease may need to limit the amount of fluid they take in each day.
While you cannot always prevent injuries during physical activity, warming up first can help. This includes taking a walk or light jog before engaging in vigorous physical activity. Wearing supportive footwear can also help.
A low-sodium diet can discourage the fluid retention that causes a swollen ankle or leg. This includes refraining from eating fast food. Many frozen meals often contain excess sodium, so it’s important to read food labels carefully.