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Swollen Legs After Running

by
author image Andrea Cespedes
Andrea Cespedes is a professionally trained chef who has focused studies in nutrition. With more than 20 years of experience in the fitness industry, she coaches cycling and running and teaches Pilates and yoga. She is an American Council on Exercise-certified personal trainer, RYT-200 and has degrees from Princeton and Columbia University.

You run to get fitter, to release stress and to keep your body looking healthy and strong. But, whenever you go out for more than a few miles, swollen legs cause pain, create worry and make you look like you have tree trunks for legs. What's the deal?

Swollen legs following a run can be caused by a number of possible afflictions, many of which are fixable without visiting a doctor. However, if quick fixes don't help, make an appointment to see a medical professional to rule out serious causes.

Read More: Causes of Lower Leg Muscle Pain

Low Sodium

If you experience swelling after a long-distance run of 10, 15 or 20 miles, you may have low sodium caused by your sweating. Usually, the swelling you experience will be throughout your body, not just isolated to your legs.

Ensure you're getting enough electrolytes on runs lasting longer than 1 hour. Load up on more salty foods a few days in advance of a big training day or race — have pretzels at lunch or a sports drink with dinner, for example. During your run, consume between 200 and 500 milligrams of sodium for every 20 to 24 ounces of water consumed. Salt pills and sea salt supplements are options; sports drinks also provide extra sodium.

Venous Insufficiency

If you have veins that block up during prolonged standing, a long run will certainly lead to leg swelling. The veins in your legs (and elsewhere) have valves that ensure blood flows just one way back to your heart.

In cases of varicose veins or spider veins, these valves leak and some blood flows back down into the legs or has trouble pumping altogether. Genetics, pregnancy (and for years afterward) and jobs that require lots of time on your feet are common reasons you may develop venous insufficiency.

Wearing compression tights or socks can help keep your circulation moving more efficiently and discourage swelling. However, if you still experience pain and swelling post-run, talk to your doctor about possible treatments for varicose veins, which include minimally invasive surgical, laser and injection procedures.

Other Possible Causes

More serious possible causes of swollen legs while running include kidney or thyroid dysfunction. Heart failure, liver failure and some medications may also cause the swelling — but in these cases, you likely aren't running long distances.

Read More: Proper Training for Long-Distance Running

Dealing with Swelling

You may be tempted to take diuretics, which are pills that encourage flushing out of excess fluid through your urine, to solve the problem. While they may help for the short term, diuretics can cause an irregular heart beat and possibly cause dehydration for runners. Don't take them before a run.

If you experience swelling after a major effort, such as a personal record in a marathon, the swelling may simply be the result of muscle trauma. Go to the med tent and have them apply ice; drink a sports drink afterwards to rebalance your electrolytes. Elevation of your legs after your run also helps reduce pooling of blood and fluid in your ankles and calves.

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