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a man rubs his pregnant wife's feet

Possible cause: Fluid retention

Swollen feet and ankles may be related to edema, when too much fluid becomes trapped in the body’s tissues. Edema can be caused by poor venous return (when the body’s ability to pump blood up and away from the feet is compromised), eating too much salt, being pregnant, being premenstrual, or sitting or standing in place for too long.

It may also be a side effect of certain medications or a sign of insulin resistance. “Uncontrolled blood sugar creates free radicals and inflammation that damages collagen in the blood vessels, so they start to lose integrity,” says Emily Splichal, DPM, a func­tional podiatrist at the Center for Functional and Regenerative Podiatric Medicine in Chandler, Ariz..

Edema can signal even more serious conditions, including prob­lems with the kidneys, liver, or heart. If you have persistent swelling in your feet and ankles, it’s wise to check with your healthcare provider.

Whatever the underlying issue, swelling in the feet and ankles is usually relieved by elevating them. And while taking a walk can sometimes increase swelling (especially in hot weather), walking provides a net benefit. The calves are known as the “second heart” because of the role they play in pumping blood through the lower part of the body.

“The feet, being farthest away from the heart, run the greatest risk of poor circulation; your cardiovascular system depends heavily on the movement of the muscles in the feet and lower legs,” writes Bowman in Simple Steps to Foot Pain Relief.

The best way to lend the heart a hand is to get moving. “You need a pumping mechanism to get the blood back up to the heart, and walking is a great way to activate that calf pump,” Splichal explains. (For more on your calves and cardiovascular health, see “The Surprising Connection Between Your Calves and Heart Health.“)

As the literal foundation of our bodies, our feet are crucial to keeping us active and healthy. See “What Your Feet Are Trying to Tell You,” from which this article was excerpted, for more common foot issues and steps to relieving them.

Mo Perry

Mo Perry is an Experience Life contributing editor.

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