Swollen ankles – general causes and treatments

Do your ankles feel heavy and bloated? Is it so uncomfortable that you can’t move as well as before

The key to effectively treating swollen ankles is understanding why they are swollen in the first place.  There may be several commonplace reasons why your ankles are swollen, ranging from simply having been on your feet all day, to air travel, a long period of immobility to excessive heat. Swelling happens when your body retains fluid in the lower legs, ankles and feet (oedema). A simple and easy remedy is to sit and prop your legs up to help decrease swelling.

However, there may be other reasons for a swollen ankle that may need alternative treatment.

Below are a few causes and treatments for you to consider:

  • Bruising and swelling invariably follows a foot or ankle injury. This can be simply treated by resting with the foot elevated.  A compression bandage or an ice pack applied to the area can also help to reduce swelling.  If you use ice, be sure to have cloth between your skin and the ice pack as it may result in damage to your skin.  Ice should be applied to the swelling in bursts of 20-minute intervals and be careful you don’t fall asleep as this may result in leaving the ice on the skin for too long.  Seek medical advice if the selling does not go down or symptoms become worse.
  • An infection, typically as a result of a bite or cut, may result in swelling. Diabetics have a higher chance of infection as the pain sensation in their nerves is reduced when they have an injury.  A slow diagnosis of the wound may also result in infection.  If you suspect you have an infection then medical advice should be sought.
  • Lymphoedemia, which is the accumulation of lymphatic fluid, may occur if the lymphatic system is compromised by a blockage, or if lymph nodes have been removed, resulting in fluid not being able to drain away. This poor circulation may manifest itself in swelling of the limbs and feet.  Exercises can help to reduce this.
  • If blood cannot circulate freely around the body and is restricted in any way, this may reduce in pooling. This can occur with someone who has varicose veins. Swelling may then result in the feet and ankles.  Swollen ankles are often seen in older people who sit with their legs down for long periods of time.
  • Blood clots or deep vein thrombosis (DVT) in the leg can be painful and often result in swelling in the calf. However, a DVT can be difficult to identify as symptoms can be diverse but it is a very serious condition and can be life threatening. Immobility, smoking, dehydration, infection and use of some medications can all result in developing a DVT.
  • If swollen ankles are combined with tiredness or breathlessness while exercising, lying down or waking struggling to breathe then you should seek medical advice as this could be a result of a kidney or heart condition. Tests should be undertaken to exclude any such condition.
  • Certain medicines may also lead to an accumulation of fluid as they can affect the normal function of the kidneys. These can be medication taken to lower blood pressure such as calcium channel blockers and steroids. If you are taking these medicines and you have resulting ankle swelling then you must refer to your doctor.

What to do next?

As ankle pain and swelling may be the result of many conditions we would recommend you get advice from your GP. Scans, blood tests and x-rays are all things that can be carried out to help with an assessment.

You may also be advised to exercise, lose weight, undertake physiotherapy or be prescribed medication.

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