What to Do About Painful or Uncomfortable Swelling in Diabetic Feet

It can be disconcerting to look down at your feet and ankles and almost wonder if they are truly yours!

They may look swollen or puffy, and the skin may look stretched and shiny. You might even see some pitting in the swollen area.

This swelling in the lower extremities, also known as peripheral edema, can be an uncomfortable condition. It may even interfere with your ease of movement and bring on other detrimental symptoms as well.

Edema can be especially concerning to those who live with diabetes. It is often related to conditions that can slow and impede wound healing, and the presence of swelling itself can also significantly interfere with this process. If you have diabetes, you ideally want to keep swelling in the feet and ankles to a minimum.

To best do so, it helps to understand just what is going on when your feet and ankles swell up.

What Causes Edema?

When you see puffiness, it is often due to fluid building up in the feet and ankles. But where does this fluid come from? Your circulatory system, mainly.

Fluid is carried through the bloodstream via main vessels (veins and arteries) and much smaller secondary vessels, the capillaries. When the capillaries are damaged or are working under increased pressure, liquid can leak out of them and into the surrounding tissues.

Not all conditions that can cause edema are related to diabetes. Pregnancy, for example, can place a lot of excess pressure on capillaries, causing that pooling of liquid. Poor diet, hot weather, medication side effects, or having to stand for long periods of time—among others—can also have an influence.

However, diabetes can also damage the circulatory system, and can also be related to certain heart and circulatory conditions that increase the likelihood of edema. Liver disease and kidney disease may also be contributing factors, and may also be associated with diabetes.

Niemann Diabetic Foot Swelling

What Can Be Done About Edema?

The primary course of action should be addressing the underlying conditions that are contributing to your edema. This includes proper management of diabetes and related conditions.

Our podiatry practice is well equipped to help with matters affecting circulation, as we possess our own vascular screening lab staffed by a cardiologist.

When it comes to relieving the symptoms of edema itself, we can certainly help you develop a plan that will work best for your individual needs and lifestyle. It may include many things you can often take care of easily at home, such as:

  • Exercise. Combatting inactivity and increasing circulation can help reduce fluid retention and swelling in your feet and ankles. Exercise is a very important element in many diabetic management plans, but it should be carefully considered and planned to reduce your risk of injury. Exercise does not always have to be intense, either. Even taking a short walk every hour or so can have a positive effect.
  • When not moving, keeping your feet elevated can help reduce or prevent fluid retention. This can be as simple as keeping them propped up on pillows or in a reclining chair. If you want to get fancier, however, you might also consider yoga poses that focus on lower limb elevation.
  • A pair of good compression socks are a good investment for just about everyone, but can be especially effective for those who suffer from frequent swelling. There is such a thing as getting compression socks that are too tight, however, so either start off light or let us help you determine a good pressure for you to start with.
  • Epsom salt soaking. A soak in a bath filled with Epsom salt can help soothe some of the discomfort that can accompany edema. Always be careful to gauge the temperature of any water with your hands if you have a lack of sensation in your feet.
  • More water, less salt. Excess salt can increase fluid retention while, counterintuitively, drinking more water can actually reduce retention. You should always ensure you are receiving a reasonable water intake, regardless. 

Filling glass of water from stainless steel kitchen faucet

Comprehensive, Long-Term Care for Diabetic Feet

Edema and other complications of diabetic feet are not something to just “live with.” The more we take steps to address and manage these problems, the less of a chance they have to make things worse down the road—causing matters such as diabetic wounds and breakdown of the feet.

When it comes to swelling, we can provide the best advice and treatments to help keep symptoms down, so you can do what you love. We have seven offices located throughout the greater Phoenix area to provide care and service wherever you may be.

Give us a call at (480) 917-2300 to schedule an appointment with us. Or, if you prefer to contact us electronically, fill out our online contact form to have a member of our office reach out to you.

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