How to Reduce Swelling

Do you find that your limbs are more swollen than normal? Are you finding it hard to recognize your feet or ankles? Then you may be suffering from some form of local swelling. This article will help you to understand what causes swelling in the body as well as what can be done to reduce the swelling and maintain a healthy body.

What causes swelling?

The normal function of the lymphatic system will remove excess liquid, proteins, and other substances from body tissue and return them to the bloodstream. When this function doesn’t happen as it should the tissues begin to swell with the excessive liquid. The medical term used for swelling is called edema and can happen in a specific area such as the feet or it can be more generalized and occur throughout the body.

Edema can cause many problems for the body that can greatly affect the quality of your life. It can be a source of pain, stiffness, loss of range of motion, scar tissue and fibrosis, recurrent skin infections, weakness, fatigue, restricted function, and difficulties with reintegration back to their work life, home life, and recreational activities.

What physiotherapist treatments can help?


A modality is a type of energy that is used to cause a physiological change. Physiotherapists may use electrical, thermal, or mechanical energy in treating an area. For example, electrical energy may be used to stimulate the rhythmic contraction of the muscles. This enhances the musculoskeletal pump which helps to reduce the tissue fluid in the affected area.

Therapeutic exercises

A physiotherapist can help you with exercises that are aimed at stretching and strengthening the muscles in the affected area. These exercises will help increase venous and lymphatic flow moving the excess fluid away from the body tissue.

Patient education

Physiotherapists can help you to re-educate your body posture. This is one way to help maintain a reduction in body swelling. Also, understanding body mechanics can help keep the swelling down. Those with lymphedema are more susceptible to skin infections. Physiotherapists can advise you on skin and nail care to help you avoid these.

Manual Lymphatic Drainage (MLD)

An effective way to reduce swelling is to use MLD. It has the added benefit of improving the healing process as well as increasing lymph flow, aiding the removal of harmful toxins from tissues, reducing swelling, and re-routing fluid from congested areas.

The expert physiotherapists in our downtown office at Maiden Lane Medical Physical Therapy are equipped to assist you if you are suffering from swelling. Give us a call or book an appointment online.


How can I reduce swelling?

There are a number of things you can do if you are experiencing mild swelling.

1. Use compression socks

You can buy these at your local drug store or shoe store or online. They work by compressing your feet and legs, preventing fluid from collecting in these areas. They are available in light, medium, and heavy weights. It’s advisable to select a size that isn’t going to be too tight. Put them on when you wake up and try to keep them on as long as possible for the day.

2. Elevate the area of swelling

You can do this in any way that is comfortable for you. Whilst sitting you can keep your feet raised by placing them on an ottoman. Or if you prefer lying down you could raise your legs and rest them against a wall.

3. Exercise

Being sedentary for too long can increase swelling. Even small movements whilst sitting or lying can help reduce pain. Try moving your knees or flexing your ankles to gain relief. Swimming is a good exercise too because it is a non-weight bearing exercise.

4. Weight loss

Losing extra weight is one way to help reduce swelling as well as improve overall health

5. Epsom salt

Soak your feet and ankles for 15 to 20 minutes in a cool bath filled with added Epsom salt to relieve the pain associated with swelling. Be careful if you have diabetes and test the water first for extreme temperatures.

6. Magnesium supplements

You can reduce your water retention and pain by adding 200 to 400mg of magnesium to your diet. If you have a kidney or a heart condition then speak to your doctor first as it’s usually not advisable to increase magnesium with those conditions.

What causes swelling in the body?

Swelling happens when small blood vessels leak fluid into the surrounding tissues. The build-up in fluid makes the tissue swell. It can occur because of injury or inflammation. Also, medications, pregnancy, infections, and other medical conditions can cause swelling. 

What does it mean if your feet and ankles are swollen?

Ankle and foot swelling is also known as peripheral edema. It happens when excessive fluid builds up in the area. When it is accompanied by pain then it usually means that you have an injury. If there is no pain then there may be other issues involved, such as:

Being overweight

Excess body mass can put extra pressure on your body and decrease blood circulation causing fluid to build up in the feet, legs, and ankles.

Standing or sitting for long periods

Your muscles act as a pump that pushes fluids back into the bloodstream. When you are inactive the pump’s effectiveness is reduced and your legs may retain excess water or blood.

How do I know if my swelling is serious?

If you have any of the following symptoms then give us a call: 646-290-9560 at  Maiden Lane Medical Physical Therapy and our expert physiotherapists will be able to help you reduce your swelling if you’re experiencing:

  • Discomfort or pain in the affected limb and joint
  • Decreased flexibility in the affected joint
  • Swelling in your arms, legs, shoulders, hands, fingers, or chest
  • Skin that feels tighter, harder, or thicker than normal in the affected area
  • Aching or a feeling of heaviness in your arm or leg
  • Weakness in your arm or leg
  • Infections in the affected limb
  • Discolored skin on the limb
  • Post-traumatic Edema
  • Post-surgical Edema
  • Removal of lymph nodes in the underarm, groin, or pelvic region
  • “Pitting” in the tissues of your limb
  • Difficulty doing your daily activities
  • Post-mastectomy or prostatectomy
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Chronic fatigue syndrome
  • Chronic Regional Pain Syndrome
  • Migraine Headache
  • Sinus Headache
  • Scleroderma