Updated: Jun 21, 2019
Now that it's summer, I have more people coming in with swollen feet and ankles.
In your body's attempt to cool, blood is directed toward the surface of the skin to cool off, fluid then pushes into surrounding tissues where it can get stuck.
Excessive heat can cause swelling in your feet but so can certain medications, lifestyle, and too much sodium.
In all cases of swelling, you should be checked out by your doctor to rule out serious conditions - this is particularly important if you are pregnant, if it is painful or if there is a sudden onset of swelling
Here are some top causes of foot swelling and some natural ways to fix them.
The Cause: Its Hot
When it's hot, our bodies try to cool us down by increasing blood flow to the surface of our skin.
Our extremities can dissipate heat faster than the core of our body, but it can also be harder for blood to return to the heart due to gravity, poor venous function and the natural movement of our bodies (too much standing or sitting).
There may be additional causes (like the ones below) that make your feet swelling worse.
Your feet may swell when its hot out but also because you eat too much sodium and you sit down too much at your job, and because of inflammation caused by a food sensitivity which is caused by poor gut health.
In other words, the temperature may not be the real problem.
The Fix: Cool Off, Compression & Treat Underlying Causes
Get out of the heat as much as possible if your feet swell. Wear a sunhat, use a sun umbrella and UPF clothing - anything to keep your core body temperature lower than the blazing temperature outside.
If you must be outside, you can take a little spray water bottle full of ice water. After all, your body is pushing blood to the surface to cool it faster, misting the surface of the skin speeds up this process.
Compression stockings or calf sleeves can be used before your feet start to swell and may reduce how much they swell by the end of the day.
Your stockings should not be painful or cut into the skin but should be snug. The tightness is what is helping your body escort fluids back up to your heart.
If natural remedies or conventional treatment do not seem to be working, a functional medicine practitioner can find what is causing your swelling and can treat it using natural, non-pharmaceutical methods.
Read more about functional medicine.
The Cause: Too Much Salt
A poor diet (one full of processed foods and low on fruits and vegetables), is one of the leading causes of swollen feet.
Excess salt can affect the delicate balance of hydrostatic pressure between your veins and surrounding tissues - this causes water to become 'stuck' in your tissues.
The Fix: Eat Less Salt!. . . and Check your Adrenal Function
The easiest way to stop diet-related excess swelling is to clean up your diet.
If your feet are swelling as a result of what you are eating, it is most likely not due to some sea salt sprinkled on your dinner but the truckloads of salt manufacturers use to preserve fast foods and processed foods like deli meats and pre-made dinners.
This swelling is a warning of how hard a poor diet makes your body work to maintain homeostasis.
Not only will an unhealthy diet lead to aches, pains and swelling but it has been linked to almost every chronic disease.
Don't know where to start?
Rather than starting on an extreme diet with lots of fat or no carbohydrates - start formulating meal-plans with satiating, clean food that you actually want to eat.
A great diet is something like the Whole30 which focuses on cutting out processed foods and is rich in fiber and whole fruits and vegetables.
Once you get used to eating foods that your body was meant to digest, your swelling will go down and you will feel better overall.
If you find yourself craving salty foods and are under stress then you may be suffering from adrenal fatigue.
Stress can cause electrolyte imbalance, this imbalance often affects sodium levels.
Those with adrenal fatigue often crave salty foods.
The 'fix' in that case will be to heal your adrenal fatigue. Once your adrenals heal and regain normal function, you will not crave salt and your feet will not swell.
Addressing the deepest layer of the problem always gets the most satisfying results.
Adrenal fatigue can be assessed with a few markers on a functional medicine test and in the majority of cases, can be treated using diet, lifestyle and high-grade supplementation.
Read more about adrenal fatigue.
The Cause: Ankle Injury
Often, if you have swelling that is worse in one foot, it is due to a past injury.
This can be due to an injury that happened hours, months or even decades ago.
Even those who sprained their ankle in childhood can suffer the biological effects of an improperly healed injury.
Just as you develop muscle memory when you learn a new skill, like ballet or yoga - when you suffer an injury like a sprained ankle, your body moves differently in order to avoid pain and to speed up the healing of that bone or muscle.
These repeated, protective motions are 'remembered' in your tissues. Long after there is no pain in the site of your injury, your body can still be moving to protect that injured area.
I find that the aches and pains that many associate with getting older are often due to a lifetime's accumulation of improperly healed injuries.
An ankle injury you sustained as a teenager can subtly affect the way you move your knee, your hip, your shoulder and how you hold your neck.
Many neck and shoulder problems are, at their origination - old foot or knee injuries.
The Fix: Chiropractic, TTAPS Soft Tissue Treatment
Even pain, swelling and discomfort from the oldest injuries can be improved by soft tissue treatment and chiropractic.
A c-section can cause gastrointestinal upset in the months and years after delivery, a lower back injury can cause migraines and a broken toe can cause hip pain - this is why my physical evaluations always start at the feet and work their way up.
No matter how old the injury, or if you even remember it, we can reset the body's neuromuscular system using manual treatments.
TTAPS treatment uses a small rounded tool to stimulate organ function, activate dormant muscle groups, and helps 'reset' the body back to the time before an injury.
I include soft tissue treatments with all of my functional medicine appointments.
Read more about TTAPS soft tissue treatment.
The Cause: Vein Dysfunction
Cases of varicose veins or chronic venous insufficiency are surprisingly common among those with chronic illness. The inflammation that comes with chronic illnesses can affect venous function.
Conditions like Crohn's disease, rheumatoid arthritis or Hashimoto's can cause high levels of inflammation.
During a flare of symptoms it is not uncommon for patients to have symptoms of leg heaviness, leg itching, swollen feet and hives over large veins.
Even in those in good health and no visible varicose veins or spider veins - swelling can be caused by vein dysfunction or varicose veins.
The Fix: Vein Treatment, Functional Medicine Treatment
Anyone having symptoms of swelling, leg or feet itching, 'heaviness,' or visible veins should get their legs checked by a vein specialist in addition to their normal doctor.
While ruling out underlying conditions like autoimmune disease or food sensitivities is very important - the root cause may just as likely be valve dysfunction in the vein itself.
To check for this, a vein specialist will look into your leg much like a doctor would look at a growing baby.
Many assume that varicose veins are only present when there are visible signs of veins on the outside of the leg but you can have 'invisible' varicose veins that are deep inside your leg.
This is why getting screened is so important.
Many vein clinics offer free vein checks and offer a range of non-surgical options like sclerotherapy, radiofrequency ablation, and endovenous laser ablation .
If your swelling symptoms are caused by a chronic illness like an autoimmune disease then a functional medicine practitioner can use natural treatments to address the underlying causes of your condition and your swelling.
If a chronic infection has triggered your ulcerative colitis, for example, then we can use powerful, natural anti-inflammatory therapies, as well as diet and lifestyle changes to shift the body into a healing state to resolve the chronic inflammation.
We can then rebuild the health of your digestive system and microbiome to ensure that the infection does not return. Often, using a targeted, multifaceted approach, symptoms are dramatically reduced or go away entirely.
The Cause: Side Effect of Medication
A side effect of many common medications is foot swelling.
Some of these medications are Amilodipine/Norvasc (a blood pressure medication), Gabapentin (used for nerve pain), and NSAIDS like Ibuprofen and naproxen (used for pain and inflammation).
Other pharmaceuticals that often have swelling listed as a side effect are steroids and medications prescribed to treat diabetes.
The Fix: Consult your Doctor, Functional Medicine Consultation
Always consult your doctor before you make any changes in your medications.
Sometimes, pharmaceutical medications are necessary and suddenly stopping medications can be dangerous.
Often, a functional medicine practitioner can help you find natural solutions to your chronic health problems without the use of pharmaceuticals.
Other times, natural supplementation can be used to offset the symptoms of necessary medication.
Symptoms are a sign that your body is struggling to maintain equilibrium.
Don't just suffer through side effects.
Read more about functional medicine
The Cause: Too Much Standing, Too Much Sitting
Gravity makes your body work harder to get your blood back to your heart.
Muscle contraction that happens when you move makes it easier for your body to circulate blood and lymphatic fluid back to your heart.
Sitting or standing for long periods of time makes this circulation difficult.
The Fix: Flats, Compression and Movement
If you stand a lot during the day, make sure your shoes are not too tight and they are flat with a cushioned sole and arch support.
Slipping on calf compression sleeves under your work clothes can also help circulation if you stand or sit a lot during the day.
The greatest tip however, is movement - as much as possible, as often as possible.
At least once per hour (preferably, every half hour) get up if you are sitting at your desk. Do a few quick squats or pace around for a minute if you can.
If you are standing a lot or sitting a lot, try to take breaks where you elevate your feet as much as you can.
Even a few inches off the floor can help your body bring blood back to your heart.
The Cause: Air Travel / Dehydration
I have left air travel for last because it combines many of the above 'causes',
You are often in a very cramped seat, can't get up and stretch your legs, are in an environment that dehydrates you much quicker than usual, and you don't really want to drink that much.
That precariously bouncy walk to a tiny bathroom practically encourages dehydration.
The Fix: Compression, Hydration, Movement
While quickly gulping down a bottle of water seems like a good idea to hydrate before a flight - if you are dehydrated, you will have to go to the bathroom quicker, and it won't help too much overall if that is the only water you drink.
Think more about dehydration prevention as being in terms of days rather than hours. In the days leading up to a long flight drink your weight, divided by two, in ounces.
You can squeeze in some lemon for an extra electrolyte kick.
By the time your flight rolls around you will be surprised how much better you feel getting off the plane.
Sipping water regularly throughout the flight then becomes much more manageable as bathroom breaks will be less frequent since you are starting out hydrated.
Wear compression socks or stockings on your flight, and try to get up as often as you can to stretch or pace.
While sitting, move and stretch your feet often, point your toes, rotates your feet at the ankle, squeeze your calves - all of these motions help move around blood.
More Swollen Feet Fixes
Get Your Minerals Checked
Magnesium deficiency is common and often causes feet swelling which is one of the reasons why an epsom foot bath is so effective.
Many find relief with a daily dose of 200mg of magnesium.
If your symptoms are severe or complex, functional medicine can test for this and many other minerals so your dosages can be at their most effective.
TTAPS Soft Tissue Treatment
I offer a drug free, non-invasive soft tissue treatment in my office.
Depending on what is making your feet swell I can activate muscle groups, soothe inflammation and optimize organ function so that your body can excrete the toxins it needs to and reduce swelling where it shouldn't be.
I include this soft tissue treatment in all of my functional medicine appointments.
Read more about TTAPS Soft Tissue Treatments
Drink enough water! Whenever something is getting stuck - whether its lymphatic fluid or pooled blood - adequate hydration allows your body to work to rectify the situation.
A good guideline is to take your weight, divide it in half, and that is the amount of ounces you should drink per day. If you exercise, your need will be greater.
Full Body Gua Sha
Many are familiar with the skin benefits of gua sha for the face, but few know that they can apply this technique for the rest of their body.
Patients have had success using body gua sha for pain, swelling and lymphatic drainage. Heres how to do it.
You could just eat a bunch of cucumbers too, but I find juicing much quicker and easier.
Cucumber is fantastic at helping your body remove excess fluid.
Cucumber juice is also wonderfully healing in other ways, its the first thing I start drinking when I have a cold.
Getting a regular massage, can drastically improve lymphatic function and reduce swelling.
You can get any variety of massages for these benefits but a lymphatic massage will focus on removing waste that your body's tissues are hanging on to.
Lymphatic massage is particularly helpful for those with chronic illness.
Try to get your feet propped above your heart for at least 10 minutes a few times a day.
This position will help 'manually' drain pooled blood out of your feet and back into circulation.
For plane rides, on long runs or during a long day at work, slipping on some calf compression stockings can assist your body in removing excess fluid.
Your compression stocking should not be painful or cut into your skin but be should be very snug.
Always consult a vein specialist if you have any questions about fit.
Other Reasons Why Your Feet Swell
There are many other reasons why your feet may be swelling, some of them serious. Always check with your doctor to rule out these conditions.
Conditions like non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) and pre-fatty liver disease are common causes of feet swelling but are rarely checked for by doctors.
Other conditions like underlying infection, an unhealthy microbiome and many autoimmune symptoms can cause swelling.
Symptoms like swelling, when left unchecked, will turn into more symptoms and eventually, full blown disease.
Why It Matters That Your Feet Swell
It is not 'normal' for parts of your body to swell significantly or cause you pain. Much like chronic pain, swelling gets written off as 'unimportant', or a natural part of getting older.
In the vast majority of cases, in patients of all ages, there is a traceable, treatable reason behind their swelling.
Rather than avoiding going outside in hot weather - a functional medicine consultation can pinpoint why you have these symptoms and offers natural methods of treatment so you don't have to spend your life dodging your symptoms.
Whether you want to treat a health condition naturally or want a permanent, natural solution to your swelling - I offer a Free 15 Minute Consultation in which you can ask me questions.
I also offer functional medicine appointments and soft tissue treatments from my office in Kansas City, and do online consultations for those out-of-state and around the world.
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