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

By Connie Chow, Founder at DailyCaring

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 “Bob and Brad, the Famous Physical Therapists” that help get rid of swollen ankles, legs, and feet.


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:

  1. Congestive heart failure and other heart conditions

  2. Chronic kidney disease

  3. Vascular conditions

  4. Rheumatoid arthritis

  5. After surgery, when the body is healing

  6. 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.

Swollen ankles in elderly - use simple home exercises to get rid of them

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.


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

Potential solutions that can help reduce swelling include:

  1. Wearing compression socks or compression stockings.

  2. Making sure shoes aren’t too tight.

  3. Elevating the legs to allow gravity to help with circulation.

  4. Staying hydrated – it may sound counterintuitive, but dehydration can actually cause the body to retain more fluids.

  5. Eating more magnesium-rich foods like nuts, seeds, legumes, whole grains, and leafy greens.

  6. 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.

  7. Limit intake of salt and carbohydrates.

  8. 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.

  9. Losing excess weight.

Swollen feet in elderly - 3 simple home exercises help get rid of swelling in feet and ankles

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.

Swollen legs in elderly female - use simple home exercises to get rid of swelling

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.

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Author: Connie Chow, founder at DailyCaring, was a hands-on caregiver for her grandmother for 20 years – until grandma was 101 years old! Connie has an MBA from the University of Southern California and has been featured on major news outlets, including WJCL22 Savannah (ABC), KRON4 San Francisco, NBC10 Philadelphia, 23ABC Bakersfield, KAGS Texas (NBC), and KVAL13 Oregon (CBS). She has spoken at Institute on Aging, written for Sixty and Me, and been quoted in top publications, including U.S. News & World Report, HuffPost, and Society of Senior Advisors.

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.


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