Many of us spend a lot of our time either sitting or standing. Because of this, it often feels good to kick back and relax once in a while.
It’s even possible that you can gain some health benefits from putting your feet up and elevating your legs.
In this article, we’ll take a closer look at the health benefits of elevating your legs, what conditions it may help, and the precautions to be aware of.
Sitting or lying down with your legs elevated can have several potential health benefits. Let’s explore them.
Improves blood flow
Elevating your legs can help improve blood flow in your lower extremeties. How? The simple answer is gravity.
Oxygen-depleted blood returns to your heart through your veins. Unlike your arteries, the pressure in your veins is relatively low. To help move blood along, your veins use tiny valves and the contraction of surrounding muscles to aid in moving blood back toward your heart.
When you’re sitting or standing, oxygen-depleted blood in your legs must also work against gravity in order to return to your heart.
Elevating your legs places them above the level of your heart. This means that gravity is now working in your favor. This may help improve blood flow in the veins in your legs.
Swelling can happen due to the accumulation of excess fluid (edema) or inflammation. It’s possible that injuries or certain health conditions may cause swelling to occur in your legs.
In the same way that it helps improve blood flow, elevating your legs above the level of your heart may help excess fluid to drain away more effectively.
Prolonged periods of standing or sitting can cause blood to pool in the veins of your legs. This can lead to an increase in pressure in these veins which, in turn, may contribute to the development of conditions like varicose veins.
Elevating your legs can help lower the pressure in your legs by allowing blood that has pooled to drain away.
If you’ve been standing for a while, sitting down with your legs raised can also help ease pressure and tenderness of tired feet.
Now that we’ve explored the potential health benefits of elevating your legs, let’s take a closer at some of the health conditions that it can be helpful for.
Prolonged periods of sitting, standing, or inactivity are all factors that can increase your risk of developing a vein condition. Elevating your legs may help prevent or ease vein conditions, such as:
- Superficial thrombophlebitis. Superficial thrombophlebitis is a blood clot in a vein just under your skin that can cause swelling and tenderness. While some are low-risk, others may be associated with deep vein thrombosis.
- Deep vein thrombosis (DVT). DVT is when a blood clot forms in one of the deep veins of your leg. These clots can block blood flow, leading to leg swelling or pain. This clot can also move to your lungs, causing a pulmonary embolism.
- Varicose veins. Varicose veins happen when blood pools in your veins. These veins are located just under the surface of your skin and appear swollen, blue, and twisted. Varicose veins can cause symptoms that are often worse after long periods of sitting or standing.
- Chronic venous insufficiency (CVI). CVI happens when blood can’t effectively return to your heart, which causes it to pool in your legs. It can cause a variety of symptoms in your legs, including pain, swelling, and varicose veins.
If you’ve had an injury that affects your leg, you’ll likely experience symptoms like pain, tenderness, and swelling. Elevating your legs may help alleviate these symptoms.
Leg elevation after surgery may also help ease pain and swelling. Additionally, blood clots (such as DVT or thrombophlebitis) are a concern after surgeries, especially with hip or leg surgery.
Although it’s important to do gentle movement and not stay in one position for too long, periodic elevation of your legs may help lower the risk of blood clots.
Swelling in the lower extremities is common during pregnancy. This may be due to increased fluid retention, hormonal changes, and pressure from the expanding uterus. Leg elevation may help ease this swelling.
Cellulitis is a skin infection that’s often caused by bacteria. The bacteria enter your body through breaks in your skin and can cause symptoms like tenderness, skin redness, and swelling.
The infection itself is treated with antibiotics. However, if cellulitis develops on your arm or leg, your doctor may recommend elevating the affected limb above your heart to decrease swelling.
Lymphedema is a condition that can happen due to damage to your lymphatic system. It can cause lymphatic fluid to collect in your body, which can lead to swelling in many parts of your body, including your legs.
Lymphedema is a progressive condition, meaning that it gradually worsens over time.
Leg elevation may help reduce swelling in the early stages of the condition, but isn’t effective in later stages.
Exactly how long and how often you should elevate your legs can depend on the condition you’re trying to address.
Here’s an example of how to elevate your legs to alleviate symptoms from varicose veins.
- Move into a comfortable reclining or lying down position.
- Position your legs so they’re above the level of your heart. Use a pillow to achieve this. If you can’t elevate your legs to heart level, try to rest your legs on a coffee table, ottoman, or sofa as this will still help slow the force of gravity.
- Keep your legs elevated for about 15 minutes.
- Do this 3 to 4 times each day.
If you’re interested in trying leg elevation, there are some pointers to keep in mind.
First, if you have an underlying health condition, talk with your doctor to make sure it’s safe for you. This is always a good rule of thumb before trying any new therapy.
Your doctor may have specific tips on how best to do leg elevation for your condition. It’s also possible that leg elevation may not be recommended for your condition.
Next, ensure that you have the appropriate support for your body. Be sure that you’re lying on a surface that provides good support for your back.
Remember that your legs need to rest above the level of your heart. Because of this, it may be helpful to use a pillow to help elevate your legs. In fact, you may want to get a pillow specifically designed for leg elevation.
Lastly, it’s important to follow your doctor’s instructions if you’re recovering from an injury or surgery. If leg elevation is part of your recovery plan, be sure to adhere to your doctor’s guidance on how often and how long to do so.
Elevating your legs can benefit your health in several ways. Some of the key benefits include improved blood flow, reduced inflammation, and lower pressure in the veins in your legs.
You can use leg elevation to help ease symptoms from varicose veins and to reduce swelling during pregnancy. It may also be a helpful way to prevent blood clots after surgery.
Make sure that you have adequate support for your back and legs before trying leg elevation. If you have an underlying health condition, be sure to talk with your doctor before trying leg elevation.