Swollen Feet?

By Kim Segler OT/CHT

What Causes Swollen Feet?

Swollen feet can be caused by standing or walking a lot. Long-distance traveling may contribute to swollen feet. Gravity forces blood to pool in the lower part of your body. Over time, the pressure of gravity can cause the veins in your legs to become damaged. This condition is called venous insufficiency, which can cause your legs and feet to swell more frequently.

Compression Socks for the RICE Protocol for ankle sprains

Compression Socks for the RICE Protocol


If your occupation requires you to stand or walk for many hours, or if you are overweight, you have a higher risk of developing venous insufficiency. If left unaddressed, venous insufficiency can lead to a potentially life-threatening condition called deep vein thrombosis (DVT). DVT clots block the return of blood to the heart. Clots can break off and travel to the lungs.

If you are experiencing swelling it is best to see a foot and ankle doctor. In most cases, if not proceeded by an injury, foot and ankle swelling is usually caused by an underlying condition. Frequent swelling in the lower extremities should not be ignored.

What are Medical Causes of Swollen Feet

Musculoskeletal Conditions/Trauma

Broken leg in a plaster cast

Broken leg in a plaster cast

Your foot and ankle are made up of a network of cartilage, ligaments, nerves, muscles, and bones. Overuse injuries, degenerative diseases that affect these structures can cause swelling in the foot and ankle. Examples include arthritis, tendonitis, and bone fractures.

Venous insufficiency

Venous insufficiency occurs when a person’s blood does not flow around the body properly. Normally, the veins keep blood flowing upward with one-way valves. When valves are weakened or damaged the blood leaks down the vessels due to gravity the fluid is retained in the soft tissue around the feet and ankles. Chronic venous insufficiency can lead to skin change, skin ulcers, and infection.

Blood clots

Image of Blood clots

Image of Blood clots

Blood clots that form in the veins of the legs can stop the return of blood from the legs back to the heart causing swelling in the feet and ankles. These clots can be superficial or deep. Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) is when a blood clot forms deep in the leg and blocks one or more of the major veins of the legs. DVT is a very serious condition and can be life-threatening if the blood clot breaks off and travels to the heart or the lungs.

Pregnancy complications

A common symptom of late pregnancy is fluid retention which causes the feet and ankles swell. If swelling comes on suddenly or excessively this may be a sign of preeclampsia. This can occur during pregnancy or immediately after birth. This is a very serious condition in which high blood pressure and protein in the urine develop.

Lifestyle factors

Lifestyle factors include having a sedentary lifestyle, being overweight, or wearing ill-fitting shoes can be a cause of swollen feet.


An infection can cause swelling of the feet as well as redness.  People with diabetic neuropathy or other nerve problems of the feet are at greater risk for foot infections.

Heart disease

Image of a heart rate and doctor

Image of a heart rate and doctor

Swollen feet can be a sign of heart disease or heart failure. A damaged heart cannot pump blood to the heart efficiently. Right-sided heart failure can cause the body to retain salt and water resulting in swollen feet.

Kidney disease

People with poorly functioning kidneys can cause fluid to build up in the body and the kidneys are not able to flush out the fluid efficiently.

Liver disease

Liver disease can inhibit the production of a protein called albumin, which keeps the blood from leaking out of the blood vessels into the surrounding tissues. This can cause fluid to pool in the legs and feet which can result in welling. If swelling is accompanied by shortness of breath, fatigue, nausea, less frequent urination, chest pain or pressure, weakness, rapid weight gain, from fluid retention or confusion see your doctor right away or call 911.

Medication side effects

Taking certain medications can cause swelling in the feet as a side effect. These medications include antidepressants, steroids (androgenic, anabolic, and corticosteroids), hormones (estrogen and testosterone), calcium channel blockers which help control blood pressure. If you suspect your medication is causing your feet to swell return to your doctor for a possible change of medication.


The lymphatic system helps the body get rid of unwanted substances such as bacteria and toxins. Lymphedema occurs when lymphatic fluid gathers in the tissues as a result of problems with the lymph vessels. When the lymph vessels are damaged due to cancer treatment or lymph node removal, it causes lymphatic fluid to build up and can lead to infection or slowed wound healing.

What Should I do for Swollen Feet?

The quick answer, a little foot swelling is usually nothing to worry about. Resting and elevating your feet on a pillow will help the swelling go down.  If the swelling does not go away or occurs repeatedly, affects just one foot, or is in combination with pain or discoloration you should see a doctor. If swollen feet are accompanied by chest pain or pressure or shortness of breath call 911.

Related Articles:

The Jacksonville Orthopaedic Institute has foot and ankle doctors that specialize in sports medicine, foot, and ankle injuries. JOI Physical Therapists and Certified Athletic Trainers work collectively to assist you in your return to the activity that you love. JOI offers the fitting of custom orthotics and the ability to analyze running mechanics.

To schedule physical therapy, please call JOI Rehab at 904-858-7045.

Finally, to schedule an appointment with an Orthopaedic Foot and Ankle Specialist, please call 904-JOI-2000, schedule online, or click below.

Book An Appointment with a JOI Physician

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