Diabetes can affect blood circulation and cause fluid to build up in the feet, ankles, and lower legs. You may be able to relieve swelling with compression socks, exercise, and other remedies.

Excess swelling of the feet and ankles due to fluid buildup in the tissues is known as edema. You may experience swelling in a specific site, or it may be more general.

Swelling is common after eating salty foods and sitting in one position for too long. Some people may also experience swelling due to hormonal changes. These aren’t the only causes of swelling, though.

Diabetes is a condition where the body doesn’t produce any or enough insulin. Insulin is a hormone that the pancreas releases. It helps your cells absorb sugar.

If your body doesn’t use insulin properly, high levels of glucose (sugar) can build up in your blood. Without treatment, high glucose levels can damage the lining of smaller blood vessels. This damage can result in poor blood circulation.

This poor circulation can cause fluid to build up in the feet and ankles, resulting in swelling.

Other causes of swelling

Over time, high blood sugar can damage the nerves in your lower extremities and other parts of your body. This can lead to numbness, which makes it difficult to detect injuries like sprains, fractures, and cuts.

Untreated sprains and fractures can trigger swelling. Untreated cuts and scrapes are at risk of inflammatory infection. If you have diabetes, it’s important to check your feet regularly for cuts, bruises, and other injuries.

See a foot specialist periodically to check for circulation concerns or nerve damage in your lower extremities.

According to the National Health Service, other factors associated with diabetes that may cause swelling in the feet include:

In rare cases, edema may result from an increased tendency to have leaky capillaries or sometimes from taking large amounts of insulin.

If you experience swelling from diabetes, here are 10 tips to help manage fluid in your feet.

Compression socks help maintain the right amount of pressure on your feet and legs. This can improve blood circulation in your feet and reduce swelling, per 2017 research.

Compression socks cover your calf up to the knee. Wear them like regular socks during the day and remove them before bed. Talk with your doctor to see if you need to wear them on one leg or both.

It’s important that compression socks aren’t too tight, so start with light compression and increase the compression if necessary. A compression sock that’s too tight can actually reduce circulation. It’s also important not to place socks over open wounds or sores.

Discover more about compression socks for diabetes here.

Elevating your foot above heart level can also help reduce fluid retention in the lower part of your body and reduce swelling, according to the NHS. Instead of fluid collecting in your foot, fluid returns toward your body.

You can elevate your foot while sitting on a couch or lying in bed.

If you’re sitting at a desk and can’t keep your legs above heart level, using an ottoman or small stool may provide some relief from swelling.

The Legs Up the Wall yoga pose may also be helpful. Here’s how to do it:

  1. Lie on your back and position your buttocks as close to the wall as possible.
  2. While lying down, raise your legs and rest them against the wall.
  3. Hold this position for about 5 to 10 minutes.

Learn more about the health benefits of leg elevation here.

Exercise isn’t only helpful for weight management and improving blood sugar; it can also promote blood circulation and reduce swelling that results from inactivity, the NHS says.

To start, you may find it beneficial to choose non-weight-bearing exercises like swimming, cycling, and walking.

According to a 2018 research review, studies show that a combination of aerobic and resistance training is most effective in managing blood glucose levels.

Learn more ways to gently start exercising here.

Reaching and maintaining a moderate weight can help you manage your diabetes, according to the American Diabetes Association.

When your blood sugar is in the target range, you’re less likely to have damage to your blood vessels that can lead to poor circulation and swelling.

Other benefits of maintaining a moderate weight include less joint pain, a lower risk for cardiovascular disease, and increased energy.

Learn more about weight management here.

If your body holds on to fluid, drinking more water may seem counterproductive. But the more fluid you take in, the more fluid you’ll expel through urination. Plus, the body holds onto extra water when you’re dehydrated.

Before increasing your fluid intake, check with your doctor to determine if this is right for you. Sometimes, if edema is due to heart or liver concerns, your doctor may advise you to restrict your fluid intake.

Discover how much water you should drink per day here.

Eating too many salty foods can also make swelling worse. The U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend an intake of no more than 2,300 milligrams (mg) per day.

If you have diabetes, you may need to consume less salt. Speak with your doctor to see how much salt you can safely eat daily.

To cut back:

  • Eat more fresh fruits and vegetables.
  • Avoid purchasing and eating processed foods.
  • Look for low sodium canned goods when choosing canned goods.

Instead of salt, it can be helpful to cook with herbs such as:

  • garlic powder
  • oregano
  • rosemary
  • thyme
  • paprika

Sitting for long periods can also increase swelling. Make a point to get up at least once every hour and take a short 3- to 5-minute walk to promote blood circulation.

Magnesium is a nutrient that helps regulate nerve function and blood sugar levels. Fluid retention or swelling can be a sign of a magnesium deficiency.

Typically adult males require 400 to 420 mg of magnesium per day and females require 310 to 360 mg, according to the National Institutes of Health. During pregnancy and lactation, a person’s magnesium requirements are higher.

You should speak with your doctor before starting any magnesium supplements to ensure it is safe for use.

Taking high amounts of a dietary magnesium supplement could lead to diarrhea, stomach cramping, and nausea. Severe complications of supplementation include an irregular heartbeat and cardiac arrest.

If you have chronic kidney disease, supplementation may cause a buildup of magnesium in your blood, which can lead to muscle weakness.

Learn more about daily magnesium recommendations here.

Some people believe that topical application of certain essential oils can promote blood flow and reduce swelling.

Per a review published in 2017, limited animal studies suggest that oil from Hyptis martiusii benth can reduce swelling.

A 2013 study also found that lavender oil may improve blood glucose management and protect against oxidative stress in people with diabetes.

You should always do a patch test and use a carrier oil when putting lavender essential oil directly on the skin.

Learn about the potential benefits of essential oils for diabetes here.

Epsom salt is a magnesium sulfate compound that helps relieve pain and reduce swelling. You can fill a footbath or tub with water and Epsom salt to create a soothing foot soak.

If you have diabetic neuropathy, make sure you test the water temperature with your hands first to avoid injury to your foot.

Learn more about Epsom salt foot baths here.

If your swelling is new, worsening, or generalized, contact your doctor. They can diagnose your condition and determine which home remedies may be right for you.

Swelling in a person with diabetes may result from a condition associated with diabetes, such as obesity, venous insufficiency, and heart failure.

You should also see a doctor for swelling that only occurs on one side of your body. This could be a sign of deep vein thrombosis, which is a blood clot that develops in one or more of the deep veins in your leg. This condition can cause pain, swelling, or no symptoms at all.

Also, make a point to check your feet regularly for wounds to avoid infections. If you have any sores, ulcers, or blisters that don’t heal, contact a doctor.

Swelling in the feet can occur with or without diabetes. Having diabetes is frequently associated with leg swelling due to multiple causes.

Home remedies such as elevating your feet, exercising, and staying hydrated can sometimes help remedy swelling. Even so, it’s important to talk with your doctor about any new or persistent swelling.