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Swollen Legs After Exercise

author image Kathryn Vera
Kathryn Vera holds a master's degree in exercise physiology, as well as licensure as a Registered Dietitian. Currently, she works as a Clinical Exercise Physiologist in Cardiac Rehabilitation, where she provides care to patients living with chronic heart disease.
Swollen Legs After Exercise
Certain overuse injuries, like stress fractures or tendonitis, can lead to swollen legs after exercise. Photo Credit Hemera Technologies/AbleStock.com/Getty Images

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, exercise can help reduce the risks associated with heart disease, cancer, reverse obesity and aid in the treatment and prevention of a number of other conditions. While many individuals are able to exercise without incident, others develop swollen legs as a result of physical activity. Understanding why swollen legs develop and who may be at risk for the condition is the first step toward prevention. Those who experience significant swelling that doesn't reverse should seek consultation with a trained medical expert.

Causes of Swollen Legs

When edema, the build-up of fluid in the body, occurs in the lower legs following exercise, gravitational pull is one of the most common causes, according to the American College of Sports Medicine. Edema following exercise most commonly affects long-distance runners, who remain upright and expose their legs to substantial stress for extended periods of time. Swollen legs can also be related to the development of certain injuries, such as a stress fracture or torn ligament. In some cases, leg swelling can be related to a serious medical condition, such as a blood clot.

Risk Factors for Swollen Legs

As indicated previously, runners are at an increased risk for the development of edema following exercise simply as a result of the nature of the activity. Runners -- and for that matter, other endurance athletes -- may also be more likely to experience swelling as a result of overuse injuries, as the motions of the specific sport are performed over and over. The American Council on Exercise suggests that individuals living with certain chronic health conditions, such as congestive heart failure or chronic venous insufficiency, may also be more likely to develop swollen legs after exercise. Finally, those who are very new to exercise may experience leg swelling, as their bodies get used to the activity.

Managing Swollen Legs

While leg swelling after exercise cannot always be prevented, it can be managed. For best results when it comes to treating swollen legs, the American Council on Exercise encourages exercisers to elevate their feet to heart height following a bout of physical activity. Applying ice packs for 10 to 15 minutes at a time can also aid in vasoconstriction, thus limiting blood pooling and aiding in venous return to the heart. Finally, the use of compression stockings may provide some benefit to those with especially severe cases of swelling after exercise.

When to See a Physician

Those who do not experience beneficial results with these recommendations may want to consider speaking with a physician about swollen legs after exercise. In most cases, these professionals can provide assistance when it comes to making a diagnosis and treatment plan. Be sure to be truthful and accurate when discussing the specifics of leg swelling after exercise. Providing information about certain health conditions and medications can be useful when it comes to giving an accurate medical picture.

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