Why do my feet, ankles and calves swell?
Swelling of the body tissues is a symptom of having too much salt in your body. This is presumed to be as a result of too much salt (sodium) intake through dietary means. This is a well known 'fact', publicised by the media! ?? This is misleading!!! Why?
When hands, feet, ankles or calves swell, it is highly likely due to high sodium levels in the body. There are many major contributors, such as pregnancy, medication or disease: heart failure, chronic renal disease or liver disease, to take into consideration.
However, in general, 70% of people experience 'unexplained swelling', causes: 1. you're too fat!! 2. you eat too much salt 3. you drink too much 4. you spend a lot of time on your feet 5. you spend a lot of time sitting down . All possible contributors, but is that really what causes puffy, tight feet that ache more than they should?
FACT: If you experience swelling of the limbs due to too much salt in your body, it's probably not anything that you're doing!
If you experience sudden, unexplained swelling to any extremities, then you should consult a doctor. If, however, you have ruled out the typical contributors of pregnancy, medication and serious disease, and the swelling is becoming a chronic problem, then too much SALT in your system is the likely cause.
What causes feet, ankles and legs to swell?
The swelling is caused by fluid retention in the tissues. Excess fluid, that isn't being removed from the bodies systems efficiently enough, collects and then gets trapped in the tissues. Gravity also takes a big role in the fact that the swelling (pooling of fluid) happens in the lowest parts of the body. Also the fact that these body parts are also the furthest away from the heart, which is a circulatory issue, also contributes.
The veins leak fluid into the surrounding tissues, this excess fluid causes the tissues to swell. This is known as EDEMA (Oedema).
Why do we need salt?
The body requires salt for many essential functions, it helps maintain the fluid in our cells and is used to transmit information in our nerves and muscles. It is also used in the uptake of certain nutrients from our small intestines. The body cannot make salt and so we are reliant on food to ensure that we get the required intake.
It is recommended that we have a maximum of 6g of salt a day in our diets. Our bodies have a way of telling us when we require an additional intake, we crave food sources high in salt.
Cravings have a bad press of being 'bad for us'. Sometimes we do crave foods that are bad for us, these are often high in sources of fat, sugar, carbohydrates and additives. When any food source is eaten to excess, just like when other things in life are over done, it becomes an issue.
However, natural, ever day cravings are our bodies way of alerting us to it's requirements to function. When an unhealthy obsession with any particular type of food occurs, it is usually as a result of a psychological problem rather that a physiological one.
Your Salt Intake
Low salt options
Have you been misguided??
Ignoring natural cravings is very dangerous. Without enough salt to function properly, the body will suffer deficiency and systematic malfunctions will occur. It is a good idea to keep a check on how much salt is actually in your diet, and that it it kept in moderation. But this dietary point is not the reason for there being an excess of salt in the body that causes swollen feet!
Have you been told to reduce the amount of salt in your diet so that you don't get swollen feet? Has your doctor, or other health care provider, advised you that by reducing or removing salt from your diet that you're puffy ankles and aching legs will no longer swell up as the day goes by?
Have you been told that your feet swell because you are overweight? Or because you've recently put weight on? Do you simply put up with the daily tightening and swelling of feet, ankles and calves just because you're a little overweight and that's what's expected?
Cut down the amount of fluid you drink!! Have you been told that this will help you reduce lower limb swelling?
Do you spend a lot of your day standing on your feet? Walking around or standing in the same position? Only to find that at the end of the day, you're shoes are so tight that your feet want to escape.
Or are you sat down a lot through your day? There are a copious amount of jobs that require people to sit in the same position for extended periods of time. Have you been told that this is causing the tender swelling and that you should try to move around more?
It is a fallacy that any of the above cause swollen extremities. If pregnancy or chronic disease are not present, then there is no reason for salt to build up in the body to cause edema.
It is not happening because you're slightly over weight, or because you like salty foods. Nor is it because you drink a lot of liquids, you're body requires fluid for many functions, and is made up of 60% water. Dehydration is an enemy and even if you're not drinking enough throughout the day, it is still possible for the body to pool fluid in your feet and hands.
Just because you have to stand up a lot throughout the day, or the opposite and remain seated in the same position, is not going to be the main cause of swelling feet and ankles. The feet and legs do become tired and can ache from excessive use, but this is a muscular issue. Not moving around much can cause pins and needles sensations in your lower limbs, and also numbness, but this has a vascular cause.
So what is causing the body to have too high salt levels that are causing the swelling?
You've found out what ISN'T causing the problem, the things that you have been lead to believe for years. The misguiding fallacies that the media portray and that many misinformed health givers have been advising for years have caused much unnecessary suffering.
The reason that the body sometimes retains too much salt, that causes swelling, is very mild kidney dysfunction.
Before you panic or race off to your doctor because you're terrified, don't be alarmed. Many of us live with mild renal impairment without even becoming aware and live healthy lives.
What do the kidneys do?
The kidneys are a filtration system, they remove natural and self imposed toxins from the body. Natural toxins are produced as a by-product of other bodily systems, such as the digestive system. Imposed toxins are those that we put into our bodies ors we are exposed to environmentally.
These toxins are removed from the body via the kidneys, which use fluids to flush the toxins out as urine. If the kidney function is impaired in any way, excess fluid will build up in the body.
What can I do about it??
There is no medical treatment for very mild renal impairment. Dialysis is only needed if sever chronic renal failure occurs. By all means ask your doctor if you can have a renal function test, but very limited impairment does not have a 'cure'. Diuretics might be prescribed, but have a limited use.
There are however a few things that you can do to reduce the chances of suffering from swollen feet, ankles and legs. There is little that you can do regarding the mild renal impairment, but you can aid you body so that it has a better chance of not suffering the damages of sodium build up.
Looking at your diet
The recommended daily intake of sodium is 6g, that's about 1 teaspoon. Eating an excessive amount of salt will not only affect your kidneys and fluid retention, but also other body organs, such as the liver which is another filtration system. High blood pressure could also be an unwelcome visitor.
Our body uses up salt when we sweat, and we all sweat, even when the weather is cold. But excessive salt intake will put a strain on already struggling kidneys, so help them out and be aware of how much salt you eat.
Look at the labels on food packets, they will tell you how much salt is in 100g of that product. As a rule of thumb, if you are suffering from swelling in your lower extremities, you should exclude foods with more than 50mg of salt per 100g.
This includes bacon, canned anchovies, olives in brine, cheese, while bread, salami, pasties and some breakfast cereals amongst other things. These are all extremely high in salt per 100g and are very unhealthy.
By excluding, or at least drastically reducing, the amount of these foods in our diet, it will lead to the kidneys having to deal with less 'excessive' sodium levels. When just faced with normal salt intake levels, the mildly impaired kidneys should be able to adequately deal with the processing system.
Another thing to avoid in your diet is fizzy drinks. Carbonated drinks, such as soda and sparkling water, are renowned for causing tissue swelling, especially in the feet and hands,
Alcohol is another guilty culprit. It causes tissues to retain fluid, as alcohol naturally depletes the body of essential fluid and causes dehydration as side effect. Alcohol also affects the liver, which in turn causes associated problems.
Rice and pasta are also known to cause fluid retention, not just in the extremities, but to also cause a 'bloated' feeling elsewhere in the body. So removing these from your diet, even if temporarily so as to prove it to yourself, can result in stopping swollen feet and ankles.
What else can I do apart from watch my diet?
Gravity does play it's part in where the excess fluid collects. You find that your feet are less swollen first thing in the morning, when you get out of bed. As your feet and legs have been raised for several hours, the pooled fluid disperses around the body. Once you're up and about again, the fluid begins to make a bee-line for the lower limbs.
Adequate rest is important and raising your legs so that they are the same hight as your heart can cause the excess fluid to disperse. This should relieve any swelling in the feet and help avoid further fluid retention when practised regularly,
So now you have the hard, bare facts about why feet, ankles and legs 'inexplicably' swell. Extremely mild renal dysfunction is experienced, and goes undiagnosed, my a surprisingly large amount of the population. There is little that we can do to prevent or cure it, so we have to adapt our lives slightly to compensate. Some dietary compromises can result in phenomenal results, leaving you feeling healthier and happier. Good luck.
Summer LaSalle from USA on May 07, 2015:
My feet and ankle (just my left one) swell horribly when I wear tight shoes, but you're absolutely right. It's more than likely from salt intake. Urgh. Excellent, well thought out article!
Author Victoria Sheffield from Georgia on May 24, 2014:
I had this problem once and got pretty scared. After a while it went away. I thought maybe I had too much water in my system.
Shelley Watson on May 23, 2014:
Very interesting and informative article. Thank you for taking the time to share. I didn't realise that rice and pasta were fluid retainers. Up, interesting, useful, and shared.
Missy Mac from Illinois on January 15, 2013:
Great Hub! Rest is my culprit and standing on my feet. Not getting the rest along with activity swells my legs. I am losing weight to decrease the amount of weight that my body needs to carry.
mobetta4u on May 17, 2012:
I'm a Guy, can't get pregnant lol, still play sports @ my age, double nickel, ty so much Hub for Your Information it supplyed some good knowledge. What I learned from your article is, if I moderate or stay away from, salt bread, booze, an rice, this will help me stay in the batting cage a little longer, thanks again.
Katharine L Sparrow from Massachusetts, USA on September 23, 2011:
Nice hub! Very informative.
Timothy Donnelly from Ontario, Canada on September 22, 2011:
Voted UP, interesting and useful.
I have suffered from swollen, sore feet for years, but that is usually only when I work too hard, or work for too many hours in a row. I find relief by raising my feet when I sit down (something not very appreciated at work though, I think - because a lot of people don't appreciate the "look" of "lounging" - even if on a break).
Thank you for bringing this topic about excessive salt intake into light; I shall experiment with this information you offer.
I would like to add that eating a variety of unprocessed foods, especially GREEN PEAS is also beneficial for helping with swollen extremities; knowing that “Green peas are loaded with antioxidants and anti-inflammatory nutrients … Ordinarily, we would expect this extraordinary list of antioxidant and anti-inflammatory nutrients to be associated with lower risk of most inflammatory diseases, including heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and arthritis.” (http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice...
The salt content found in peas is due to the processing techniques, so the best peas to choose in order are first: fresh, second: frozen, and third: canned.
Eat your peas, America!
Thank you, and regards.