Boots WebMD Partners in Health
Return To Boots

Foot care health centre

Swollen ankles and feet

What causes foot and ankle swelling?

Swollen ankles and swollen feet are common and are often caused by fluid retention, or oedema.

The cause of the swelling can range from an injury to medical conditions.

Seek medical advice if you are concerned about swollen feet or ankles. A doctor may recommend treatment for the condition causing the swelling, as well as suggesting self-help tips to prevent further swelling.

1. Pregnancy complications

Some swelling of the ankles and feet is normal during pregnancy. Sudden or excessive swelling, however, may be a sign of pre- eclampsia, a serious condition in which high blood pressure and protein in the urine develop after the 20th week of pregnancy. If you experience severe swelling or swelling accompanied by other symptoms such as abdominal pain, headaches, infrequent urination, nausea and vomiting, or vision changes, seek medical advice immediately.

2. Foot or ankle injury

An injury to the foot or ankle can lead to swelling. The most common is a sprained ankle, which occurs when an injury or misstep causes the ligaments that hold the ankle in place to be stretched beyond their normal range. To reduce the swelling from a foot or ankle injury, rest to avoid walking on the injured ankle or foot.

Use an ice pack wrapped in a towel (don’t use in direct contact with the skin) for up to 20 minutes, reapply if necessary after a 20 minute break

Wrap the foot or ankle with a compression bandage and elevate the foot on a stool or pillow. If swelling and pain is severe or doesn't improve with home treatment, seek medical advice.

3. Lymphoedema

This is a collection of lymphatic fluid in the tissues that can develop because of the absence of or problems with the lymph vessels or after the removal of lymph nodes. Lymph is a protein-rich fluid that normally travels along an extensive network of vessels and capillaries. It is filtered through the lymph nodes, which trap and destroy unwanted substances such as bacteria. When there is a problem with the vessels or lymph nodes, however, the fluid's movement can be blocked. Untreated, lymph build-up can impair wound healing and lead to infection and deformity. Lymphoedema is common following radiotherapy or removal of the lymph nodes in patients with cancer. If you have undergone cancer treatment and experience swelling, seek medical advice.

4. Venous insufficiency

Swelling of the ankles and feet is often an early symptom of venous insufficiency, a condition in which blood inadequately moves up the veins from the legs and feet back to the heart. Normally, the veins keep blood flowing in the correct direction with the help of one-way valves. When these valves become damaged or weakened, the blood leaks back through the vessels and fluid leaks out into the soft tissue of the lower legs, especially the ankles and feet. Chronic venous insufficiency can lead to skin changes, skin ulcers and infection. If you experience signs of venous insufficiency you should seek medical advice.

WebMD Medical Reference

Stay informed

Sign up for BootsWebMD's free newsletters.
Sign Up Now!

Popular slideshows & tools on BootsWebMD

How to help headache pain
rash on skin
Top eczema triggers to avoid
Causes of fatigue & how to fight it
Tips to support digestive health
woman looking at pregnancy test
Is your body ready for pregnancy?
woman sleeping
Sleep better tonight
Treating your child's cold or fever
fifth disease
Illnesses every parent should know
spoonfull of sugar
Surprising things that harm your liver
woman holding stomach
Understand this common condition
What your nails say about your health