Why are my ankles and feet swollen?

12 Mar
Swollen feet, ankles, and lower legs are a common problem and frequently appear together. The cause for the swelling can run from simply being on your feet too long, to a traumatic injury. And of course every woman knows how pregnancy can cause your feet to swell.

Swelling in the feet, ankles, or lower legs which does not resolve with rest and elevation, indicates a dysfunction and should be evaluated as soon as possible by your podiatrist.

Reasons for swollen feet and ankles

Too much time on your feet or in your chair

Your ankles may simply be swollen because you spend a lot of time sitting or standing, which impedes circulation, allowing fluids to build up. Movement is key to reducing the swelling, and when possible, elevating your feet above your heart.


The word edema means that there is fluid in the tissues. Peripheral edema is a circulation problem, usually seen in both ankles and lower legs. This is generally due to aging of the veins which leads to chronic swelling. Obesity and varicose veins play a role also. Read more about edema.

Side Effects of Medication

Although it will usually say so on the label, sudden swelling after starting a new medicine may come as a big surprise. Medications such as steroids, certain antidepressants, and medications for diabetes can cause a considerable amount of fluid retention, which manifests as swelling around the lower legs or ankles.


Any disease which affects the movement of fluids in your body can cause swelling. Heart disease and liver disease are good examples.

Traumatic injury

If you sprained your ankle or fractured your ankle, chances are that you’re aware of it. Occasionally, a sprain or fracture may be minor, and left untreated, worsens. In this case, swelling will usually be accompanied by bruising – but not always.


Gout occurs when uric acid crystals build up within the fluid of your ankle. The crystals lead to inflammation and swelling. Read more about Gout.

Arthritis in the ankle

Ankle arthritis is very painful, and is most common in patients with rheumatoid arthritis or in those who’ve previously injured their ankle joint. Surgery may be necessary to alleviate the symptoms, and in some cases an ankle replacement may be necessary.


An infection of the soft tissue around the ankle joint may cause it to swell. The ankle joint itself may also swell. This can usually be treated with medications, but surgery is sometimes necessary.

Vascular obstruction

Problems with blood flow can affect circulation, which in turn leads to swelling in the ankles. Most commonly, the cause is a blood clot and will usually appear in just one of your legs. The swelling may appear throughout your foot, ankle, or lower leg.

Swollen feet, ankles, or lower legs may be caused by other conditions as well. Please see a podiatrist for a diagnosis.

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