How to Get Rid of Swollen Ankles in Seniors: Causes & 3 Home Exercises

Swollen ankles and legs in seniors affect safety and quality of life

Many older adults are affected by swollen ankles and legs. 

This can make moving around more difficult, increase fall risk, and make the lower body feel uncomfortable and heavy.

We explain the causes of swollen ankles and legs, what to do before starting any exercises, lifestyle changes that can help, and how certain exercises can help.

We also share 3 home exercises in a 7 minute video from the “Famous Physical Therapists” that help get rid of swollen ankles, legs, and feet.

 

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Causes of swollen ankles in seniors

Ankles, lower legs, and feet swell when the body retains fluid in the lower legs, ankles, and feet.

It’s called edema, usually happens on both sides of the body, and is common in older adults.

This type of swelling in extremities can also be signs of a serious underlying health condition.

Edema can be caused by a variety of different causes including:

  • Congestive heart failure and other heart conditions
  • Chronic kidney disease
  • Vascular conditions
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • After surgery, when the body is healing
  • Inactive or sedentary lifestyle

And if swelling only occurs on one side of the body, contact a doctor immediately. It could be deep vein thrombosis (a blood clot), which would need immediate medical treatment.

 

What to do before starting exercises to get rid of swollen ankles

Before starting any exercises to get rid of swollen ankles or legs, it’s essential to check with your older adult’s doctor, find the underlying cause, and get their approval to exercise the area.

Moving fluid out of the legs and into the center of the body to be eliminated could put extra stress on their body, especially for people with heart or kidney conditions.

For example, it might be dangerous to reduce swelling in the legs with exercise if that makes a heart condition worse.

The goal is to safely improve overall health and comfort.

 

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Lifestyle changes that can reduce swelling in ankles, legs, and feet

Potential solutions that can help reduce swelling include:

  • Wearing compression socks or compression stockings.
  • Making sure shoes aren’t too tight.
  • Elevating the legs to allow gravity to help with circulation.
  • Staying hydrated – it may sound counterintuitive, but dehydration can actually cause the body to retain more fluids.
  • Eating more magnesium-rich foods like nuts, seeds, legumes, whole grains, and leafy greens.
  • Increasing overall movement and exercise – sitting or standing in one place for too long can increase swelling. Even moving knees and flexing ankles can help.
  • Limit intake of salt and carbohydrates.
  • Epsom salt baths (or soaking legs in an epsom-salted tub of water) for 15-20 minutes – not scientifically proven, but many people say it’s effective.
  • Losing excess weight.

 

How simple home exercises help reduce swelling in legs and ankles

We found some simple home exercises that basically work against gravity and help the body pump fluids up from the feet and back into the trunk (center area) of the body.

Once the fluid is in the upper body, it can be processed by the kidneys and eliminated in urine.

Because these exercises help the body get rid of excess fluid, your older adult might need to use the bathroom more frequently.

 

3 simple home exercises for swollen legs and ankles

Famous Physical Therapists Bob Schrupp and Brad Heineck are physical therapists who demonstrate and explain how to do 3 simple home exercises that relieve swelling in legs and ankles.

As with any exercise, it’s always best to start slowly and increase over time to prevent injuries or discomfort.

Exercise 1: Ankle pumps (1:28 in video)
Lie down and elevate feet. Moving only the feet, point toes up toward the head and then point toes down away from head.

Go back and forth and aim for 30 repetitions, 3 times a day.

It’s best to do this exercise while lying down, but it can also be done while seated. To make them a little more effective while seated, use a stool to elevate the feet.

Another senior-friendly alternative (2:48 in video) is to tap the toes like tapping along to a song. It might even be fun to play some toe-tapping music to make it more fun.

 

Exercise 2: Butt squeezes (3:17 min in video)
While sitting or lying down, tighten the glutes (butt muscles) – as if trying to pick up a quarter that’s between the butt cheeks 🙂

Go slowly and try to hold the squeeze for a few seconds, then release and relax for a few seconds before the next squeeze.

While doing this exercise, make sure your older adult doesn’t hold their breath. They should breathe slowly and deeply.

Aim for 10 of these squeezes, 3 times a day.

 

Exercise 3: Single knee to chest (5:09 min in video)
While lying down, bring one knee up to the chest and then return the leg to the flat position. Keep the other leg either flat or bent with the foot on the bed to take pressure off the back.

After finishing the exercises with one leg, switch to the alternate leg.

They don’t specifically mention how many repetitions to do. 10 repetitions per side, 3 times a day seems reasonable, but use your judgement to see what works best for your older adult.

 

Next Step  Get a clear demonstration of these 3 simple home exercises to get rid of swollen ankles (7 min)

 

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By DailyCaring Editorial Team

 

This article wasn’t sponsored, but contains some affiliate links. We never link to products or services for the sole purpose of making a commission. Recommendations are based on our honest opinions. For more information, see How We Make Money.


36 Comments

  • Reply February 16, 2022

    Marilyn

    Interesting comments. My ankles have become more swollen in the past few days. I am 84 and on 20 Prescribed meds per day. I am not able to stand for very long needing to sit to prepare meals, wash up etc. I am able to do most things ie. Shop, drive etc but tire easily. SOB has been constant for decades. Kind regards.

    • Reply February 16, 2022

      DailyCaring

      Thanks for sharing your experience! It might be helpful to contact your doctor to find out if the increased swelling is anything to be concerned about.

  • Reply August 26, 2021

    Kaye Betz

    Do you have information on palliative care ?

  • Reply August 19, 2021

    Sher Singh

    Swelling of my feetis first experience, being not aware of these exercises,tried lying raise one leg and firmly with both palmes of my hand tried to move the swelling away up,did note reduction and have been doing it for about 4/5 days. it returns .

    Am 86 active ,like regular long walk, body massage/streching and weights, play Tennis ,cycling to have enough body move. Will do these exercises, hopefully it should work. Thanks for your help.

    • Reply August 19, 2021

      DailyCaring

      It’s essential to let your doctor know about the swelling in your feet and ask for their recommendation. It could be a symptom of a health condition that requires medical treatment or lifestyle changes.

  • Reply July 20, 2021

    Tracey

    My name is Tracey. I’ve just had open heart surgery, last year feeling fine but having trouble with my calves and ankles swelling, I’m carry fluid in my legs I would like some advise how to get rid and get back to normal living. They really do hurt.

    • Reply July 20, 2021

      DailyCaring

      It’s essential to let your doctor know about the swelling and pain in your legs and ask for their recommendation. It could be a symptom of a health condition that requires medical treatment or lifestyle changes.

  • Reply June 18, 2021

    Carol

    I just started getting swollen ankles. My heart is fine as I’ve just had tests. I’m putti g down to just turning 65 so getting on! an d weight gain us inactivity since covid. I hope these exercises, weight management an starting walking will cure things. Will let you know😊

    • Reply June 18, 2021

      DailyCaring

      It’s wise that you got a doctor’s checkup to make sure there aren’t any underlying health conditions causing the swollen ankles. It sounds like you’ve got a great plan for lifestyle adjustments that will hopefully help!

  • Reply June 14, 2021

    beryl sayles

    i am so relievedafter reading your comments i will follow your advice and see how i get on . i should remember my spelling i before e exept after c i am 94 so excuse the memory loss . it is wonderfull you being here to give your help, yours sincerly beryl sayles x

  • Reply June 14, 2021

    Angelita

    I’ve been doing these same exercises for years before getting
    Out of bed. No problems and perhaps that’s why!😊

  • Reply March 7, 2021

    Ursula Christ Becker

    Thank you very much for your good advice it is very appreciated

    • Reply March 7, 2021

      DailyCaring

      You’re welcome! We’re so glad these exercises are helpful.

      • Reply March 22, 2021

        Angela Cameron

        Thank you I have swollen right ankle so those exercises are great for me. Thanks so much.

        • Reply March 22, 2021

          DailyCaring

          You’re welcome, we’re so glad these exercises are helpful!

        • Reply April 24, 2021

          mwangi joseph

          I have my elderly dad and his legs are swollen. What am I supposed to administer to him

          • April 24, 2021

            DailyCaring

            It’s essential to let your dad’s doctor know about the swelling in his legs and ask for their recommendation. It could be a symptom of a health condition that requires medical treatment or lifestyle changes.

    • Reply June 13, 2021

      Martha Tillman

      My feet and ankles were swelling each day after getting out of bed. I now can start in reducing the problem using the exercise program you suggest. Thanks

      • Reply June 13, 2021

        DailyCaring

        We’re so glad these exercises are helpful. It’s also wise to let your doctor know about the swelling in case that’s a sign that you have an underlying health condition that requires treatment.

  • Reply January 29, 2021

    Anonymous

    I am very disappointed these exercises my work for very few people most people with these severe problems could not even get their knee to their chest. My mother suffers extreme edema thanks to the uselessness of her doctor leaving it too late to provide any help she cannot even lift her feet or put her own legs into the bed

    • Reply January 30, 2021

      DailyCaring

      If someone is bedbound due to severe edema, these types of exercises are likely not a good fit. It would be best for your mother to work with a licensed physical therapist to find exercises that are safe for their health conditions and suit their specific physical needs. It may also be helpful to find a different doctor who might be able to address the cause of the edema and potentially reduce the swelling.

  • Reply June 24, 2020

    R. Kanaka Swamy

    So useful thanks

    • Reply June 25, 2020

      DailyCaring

      You’re very welcome, we’re so glad this is helpful!

  • Reply March 17, 2020

    lorraine joubert

    Thank for

  • Reply March 26, 2019

    Nanatracey

    Thank you I helped a friend with showers since he injured his shoulder and his wife has too much arthritis to help. His stubborn with going to the doctor’s 4 extra visits. I myself am in a PACE program and we’ll show him some gentle exercises until he gets to his doctor. Nothing strenuous even a little bit until he gets in to his primary.

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