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November 8, 2022
8 Effective Edema Exercises to Fix Swollen Ankles at Home
If you’re struggling with swollen ankles, you’re not alone. Around 19% of US adults experience this type of edema, which happens when excess fluid from the body pools around your ankles (1). It can be caused by heat, excess weight, health issues, or other factors.
If you’re wondering how to get rid of swollen ankles fast, you’re in the right place. In this article, you’ll learn eight effective movements that can help reduce swelling.
What Is Edema?
Edema is when your skin becomes puffy and swollen due to fluid retention. It’s especially common around your ankles, legs, or feet (2). Edema is often a sign of an existing health issue, but sometimes it’s caused by simple external factors like spending a long time on your feet, especially in hot weather (3).
Some untreated cases of edema can cause frustrating complications like lower mobility, itchiness, decreased circulation, and even more swelling. Thankfully, home remedies are effective for many cases of edema, and one of the most popular home treatments is targeted exercise (4, 5).
8 Edema Exercises for Swollen Ankles
Dr. Chad Walding, Doctor of Physical Therapy and NativePath Co-Founder, has shared a series of exercises for swollen ankles that can help you manage edema. Read this brief overview before moving on...
Since gravity causes fluid to collect near the ankles, these exercises are meant to help guide the fluid back toward your trunk. Picture your trunk like a drain. And then imagine your muscles contracting and pumping that fluid back toward the drain, with the help of gravity.
With that in mind, you’ll want to do these edema exercises with your feet elevated above your heart. You can achieve this by doing the exercises with a leg wedge or pillows you already have at home. You can do these moves on your floor, bed, or couch—just make sure that you keep your feet above your heart.
(Note: If you aren’t able to lay on your back, or you simply want to squeeze in extra reps throughout the day without laying down, you can do these exercises while sitting upright, too. They will still be helpful, just not as impactful as when they are done with the feet elevated.)
Try these eight movements each morning and evening to reduce ankle swelling and to get those lower extremities moving. Remember to go at your own pace, listen to your body, and breathe through each movement. We don’t want any strained, red faces here—let your breath carry you through each move with ease.
1. Deep Breaths
When doing any type of exercise to reduce swelling in the legs and ankles, the very first thing you want to do is focus on your breath. This helps reduce tension and pressure in the trunk area so that you can open up that “drain”, so to speak. By breathing deeply, you’ll help move the fluid where it needs to go.
Here’s how to do it: Lay on your back and rest the back of your knees on the highest point of your leg wedge. (If you don’t have a leg wedge, simply stack a few pillows on top of each other). Now take a deep breath, inhaling through your diaphragm rather than your chest. Place your right hand on your heart and your left hand over your belly. Inhale for five seconds, feeling your belly rise as you do. Then, exhale for five seconds and feel your belly fall. Repeat for 5 full breaths.
2. Knee Presses
This move contracts your core as the fluid moves to your trunk.
Here’s how to do it: Lay on your back and rest the back of your knees on the highest point of your leg wedge/pillow. Lift one knee about halfway to your chest so that it’s perpendicular to the ground. Bring both hands up so that you’re pressing against that leg and hold for 5 seconds. Release and repeat with the opposite leg. Repeat for 3 to 10 reps on each leg.
3. Lumbar Rotations
Lay flat on your back with the bottoms of your feet resting on your leg wedge/pillow. Fold your knees in towards your chest, keeping both legs together. While keeping your upper back flat on the floor, slowly rotate both legs to the right, stopping at a 45-degree angle from the floor. Then bring both legs back to center, and repeat on the left side. Don’t forget to breathe through each motion, inhaling as your knees reach center and exhaling as they move toward the floor. Repeat for 10 to 15 reps on each side.
4. Butt Squeezes
These are exactly what they sound like! Lay on your back with the back of your knees resting on the highest point of your leg wedge/pillow and keep your feet relaxed. Now it’s time to wake up those glute muscles…Squeeze the butt, hold for 2 to 3 seconds, and relax before squeezing again. Continue for 10 to 15 reps.
5. Marching In Place
Lay on your back and rest the back of your knees on the highest point of your leg wedge/pillow. Raise (or march) one leg up so that it’s perpendicular to the floor. Then return that leg to resting position and repeat with the opposite leg. Repeat for 10 to 15 reps on each leg, moving at whatever pace is most comfortable for you.
6. Kick Outs
This movement helps move the fluid back toward the heart.
Remain laying on your back, placing the back of your knees on the highest point of your leg wedge or your pillow. In this starting position, your legs should be completely relaxed so that they’re slightly curved over the wedge/pillow. Next, with your toes pointing upward to the ceiling, fully straighten one leg and hold for 1 to 2 seconds. Repeat on the opposite leg. Continue for 15 reps on each leg.
7. Ankle Pumps
Now that you’ve released some tension and contracted your muscles to send fluid back up to the trunk, you’re ready for one of the most beneficial exercises for swollen ankles: Ankle pumps.
Lay on your back with your ankles and feet extended off the edge of your leg wedge/pillow. From this position, point both toes down toward the floor and then point your toes back upward toward the ceiling. Continue these back-and-forth motions for 15 to 30 reps.
If you want to give your swollen ankles an extra boost, you can squeeze in more ankle pumps while doing other activities. They’re a perfect complement for moments when you’re sitting on the couch watching TV, or reading a book in bed. While these pumps are most effective when your feet are elevated above your heart, they still have a positive impact when done in other positions.
8. Ankle Circles
This moves your muscles in a different way than what they’re used to, helping to get those lower extremities working.
Lay on your back in the same starting position as ankle pumps: With your legs side by side and feet dangling off the edge of your leg wedge/pillow. Slowly circle both of your ankles for 15 reps. Then reverse and make circles with your ankles in the opposite direction for another 15 reps.
The Bottom Line
Remember, you are not alone in your struggle with swollen ankles. In fact, you’re among 19% of Americans who deal with it regularly! It’s an extremely common—and relatable—frustration.
The number of sets and repetitions suggested above are simply meant to serve as guidelines. Feel free to do as many sets as you want, or what your body feels comfortable with. These exercises can serve as a great start and end to your day. So if you can, carve out 10 minutes in the morning and evening to go through them.
Before you go, here’s another helpful resource that shares six ways to relieve ankle swelling naturally. One of the first things we tell those who are experiencing swelling is to address their inflammation first. (This is the main reason for swelling, FYI.) You can work toward this by drinking lots of water, eating whole healthy foods, and supplementing with Antarctic Krill Oil for swelling. Krill oil can help ease inflammation throughout the body and soothe your ankles.
As a writer, editor, and wellness seeker, Claire has written for Self, Health, Prevention, CNN, Mic, Livestrong, and Greatist, just to name a few. When she's not writing, she specializes in traveling, getting lost in health-related research rabbit holes, and finding new ways to spoil her cat.
This content is for informational and educational purposes only. It is not intended to provide medical advice or to take the place of such advice or treatment from a personal physician. All readers/viewers of this content are advised to consult their doctors or qualified health professionals regarding specific health questions. Neither Dr. Chad Walding nor the publisher of this content takes responsibility for possible health consequences of any person or persons reading or following the information in this educational content. All viewers of this content, especially those taking prescription or over-the-counter medications, should consult their physicians before beginning any nutrition, supplement, or lifestyle program.