While working long hours at your desk or making a long trip by car, bus or plane, you might notice your legs become swollen. This is called edema, and it's usually nothing to worry about. Edema simply means that fluid gets trapped in the tissues in your legs from lack of movement.
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Elevating your feet higher than your heart or getting up for a brief walk periodically throughout the day are two of the best ways to relieve edema. If you're not able to do either of those, you can perform some desk stretches and easy exercises while sitting as part of your swollen ankles treatment.
1. Leg Extensions
Elevating your feet above the heart to reverse the flow of fluids is the first line of defense for swollen legs. Propping your feet up on your desk or on the back of the airplane seat in front of you, though, probably isn't going to go over well. Instead, with what little room you have, try some simple leg extensions.
How-to: Start with your feet flat on the floor. Extend your right leg as straight as you can. If you have room to lift the leg, do so. Hold for a count of one, then return to the starting position. Now, switch sides, extending and lifting the left leg. Continue to alternate back and forth for 20 to 30 repetitions.
Read more: What is Edema and How Can Walking Trigger It?
2. Knee Lifts
If you don't have room to extend your legs for leg extensions, you can do knee lifts. These work flexion in your hips and knees to promote circulation.
How-to: Lift one foot off the floor bringing the knee toward the chest. You don't have to bring it all the way up, but you certainly can. As you do so, contract all the muscles in your thighs. Lower the leg back down, and do the other leg. Repeat for 20 to 30 repetitions.
3. Ankle Circles
Often swollen legs are worse around the calves, ankles and feet, where gravity causes fluids to pool. Rotating your ankles can help get some of that fluid moving. Ankle circles are easy and inconspicuous — great for doing during long meetings or seminars.
How-To: Simply lift one foot off the ground slightly. Begin to roll the ankle clockwise, drawing an imaginary circle on the floor with your toes. Go in one direction for 10 full circles, then switch directions. Replace the foot on the floor, and do the exercise with the other foot. Repeat five to 10 times on each side.
4. Foot Pumps
This multi-stage exercise is a nice add-on to ankle circles, further promoting the release of collecting fluids in the lower leg.
How-To: Start with both feet flat on the floor. Keeping the heels of both feet down, lift the toes and point the feet upward as high as you can. You should feel a stretch in the calf muscles on the backs of your lower legs. Return to your starting position with both feet flat on the floor. Keeping the toes on the floor this time, lift the heels off the floor as high as you can. Continue to cycle through the motions in a continuous and controlled manner for 30 seconds. Repeat if desired.
Read more: Yoga Poses for Edema