There’s no tiptoeing around the fact that swollen feet are annoying. And while it doesn’t take a doctor to point out that wearing sky-high heels all day might contribute to foot pain and swelling, sometimes the cause can be more difficult to pinpoint. But with a little detective work and advice from experts, but there are preventative measures we can take and ways to treat swollen feet.
First, it’s important to understand what actually causes feet to swell. According to Dr. Rock Positano, DPM, MSc, MPH and director of non-surgical foot and ankle service at Hospital for Special Surgery, the most common causes are either related to current health conditions or caused by irritants like too-tight shoes or long plane rides.
Dr. Positano gave a laundry list of possible causes for swollen feet related to other health conditions: obesity, water retention, tight Achilles, congestive heart failure, deep vein thrombosis, kidney disease, high blood pressure, swollen and inflamed Achilles tendon and plantar fascia, joint disease secondary to diabetes, gout, trauma like ankle sprains and generalized tendon injuries, bone fractures, varicose veins, arterial blockage, atherosclerosis, cysts behind the knees, systemic infections, flat arch or blocked lymph glands. Whoa!
And then there are temporary conditions that cause feet to swell, like being too sedentary or pregnancy. Allergies to medication and food might also cause swollen feet, along with sunburn or frostbite.
And finally, there are situational conditions that lead to swollen feet: prolonged wearing of flat shoes, allergic reaction to dyes in shoes, ill-fitting shoes or socks and shoes made of materials like plastic that don’t allow the foot and skin to breathe.
Clearly there can be many culprits, making the underlying cause difficult to ascertain.
How to Diagnose Swollen Feet
“We usually look at the worst case scenario and most common scenario and then arrive at a workable diagnosis and treatment,” says Dr. Ernest Isaacson. “Swollen feet accompanied by shortness of breath or feeling winded with exertion should always be investigated, as it could be a sign of heart disease. If only one foot is swollen on a more acute basis, that should also be investigated, as it could be a sign of infection or trauma.”
He also notes that humid weather tends to exacerbate the problem and it’s generally progressive throughout the day with most patients waking up in the morning with relatively little swelling.
How to Treat Swollen Feet
So, what can you do to treat swollen feet? Before we get to the fun stuff — shopping for new shoes — let’s get the not-so-fun stuff out of the way. “Salt reduction can have a beneficial effect in reducing the amount of fluid in the tissues as can wearing compression stockings and elevation,” says Isaacson. So say goodbye to those potato chips and hello to new socks. (Comrad makes some that are actually stylish.) “For chronic swelling caused by venous disease, your friendly neighborhood vascular surgeon or interventional radiologist may be able to offer treatments, many of which are minimally invasive and outpatient,” he says.
Loading up on natural diuretics that remove excess fluid from the body (like celery juice) and getting up to walk and stretch regularly can be equally helpful to treat swollen feet. Particularly for chronic swelling, Positano also recommends ice and calf massages.
Now for something a little more fun than drinking celery juice: shoes. Wearing comfortable ones is critical. Positano says it’s imperative to shop for shoes in the late afternoon when the foot is at its maximum size. “During the morning hours, the foot is most slender and generally a smaller size.”
He also notes that even adults should measure their feet every few years. “Weight gain/loss, pregnancy, increased/decreased activity can affect shoe size.” Unfortunately, shoes can’t necessarily prevent feet from swelling, but they can cause and worsen the situation. So if you need a reason not to go into credit card debt for the latest Sergio Rossi or Giuseppe Zanotti stilettos, there you have it.