Swollen feet aren’t a one-size-fits-all problem, pun intended. Many factors could leave you with tired and tender feet, from exercise habits to the shoes you wear—which can make it a challenge to pinpoint an exact cause.
So, what causes swollen feet? When your feet swell up, it’s usually traceable to one of two conditions:1 edema, a medical term for when excess fluid builds up in one particular body area. Or inflammation, where your body responds to a wound or infection by dilating the blood vessel so that more blood (and more fluid) can reach and heal an injured site.
Whichever is responsible for swollen feet, the condition can often come with pain, tenderness, and a “stretched” or tight feeling beneath the skin. Here, we’ll touch on several possible reasons for a swollen foot and solutions for treating it.
#1 Your Lifestyle Needs a Rehaul
It’s the little daily habits that build your long-term foot health. Swollen feet are susceptible to what you eat, how you move, and what you put into your body. If you’re dealing with long-term or intermittent foot or ankle swelling, it might be worth a look to see if lifestyle factors could play a role.
Sodium is a necessary part of everyone’s diet, but it is possible to have too much of a good thing. As a chemical substance, sodium retains water in the body—and more retained water means more chronic swelling.
If you eat over the daily recommended sodium intake (2,300 mg for adults), then a high-sodium diet just might be the cause of your swollen feet.2
It’s an evolutionary mechanism: The less water in your system, the more tightly your internal organs and tissues hold onto water!
When you don’t drink enough water, your blood vessel constricts to force water in the space between cells in your body—a recipe for developing edema.3 To counteract this, try these hydration-boosting tips:
- Drink at least 8 cups of water per day
- Drink an extra 12 ounces of water for every hour of exercise
- Avoid diuretic drinks like alcohol or caffeine
Excess Alcohol Consumption
If you’ve ever overdone it on alcohol, then swelling probably wasn’t the first of your worries (hello, dry mouth and headaches!). However, even small amounts of drinking can lead to edema. After consuming alcohol, your body naturally retains more water for two reasons:
- Dehydration –Alcohol is a natural diuretic: It encourages the body to release more water, making it easy to become dehydrated. As a response, your vital organs and tissues cling to their water supply even more, creating bloating or edema.4
- Vasoconstriction – Overall, alcohol slows and deregulates your body’s normal functions. One of these “downer” effects is vasoconstriction, or the shrinking of your blood vessels, and reduced circulation.5 The result? More edema and swelling in the limbs.
Sedentary Activity Level
A little bit of movement a day could help keep the swelling away. When you remain sedentary for too long, gravity takes an extra strong hold on the fluid in your body—a condition called dependent edema. Over time, this may build up to visible swelling in the feet.
#2 You Might Need to Lose Weight
Obesity or high body weight is often an indirect cause of health issues like swollen feet. If your BMI is 25 or higher, your body has a higher risk of developing conditions that directly create edema, including:
- Vein damage from extra pressure on your lower limbs
- Chronic venous insufficiency, when veins dilate and inefficiently circulate fluid
- Diabetes, which reduces fluid circulation and raises inflammation
- Plantar fasciitis, an inflammation of the tissues at the bottom of the feet
- Heart disease, which reduces fluid circulation
#3 You’re Pregnant
It’s not a joke that pregnancy requires both maternity clothes and maternity shoes. About 8 out of 10 pregnant women will get swollen feet, especially during their third trimester.6 This common symptom happens for a few reasons, including:
- Higher fluid volume – During pregnancy, the body adds about 50% more blood to support the growing baby. This excess fluid is more watery than normal blood, easily creating swelling around the ankles and feet.
- Higher weight – The more weight on your body, the more pressure on the veins in your lower body. As pregnancy weight accumulates, it may reduce fluid circulation around the feet and ankles by restricting veins. Also, the increased weight of the baby inside the uterus can reduce circulation.
- Hormonal shifts – During the first trimester, the hormone relaxin encourages all tendons and joints to stretch—even the ones in the feet! This can lead to the feet flattening and lengthening during pregnancy, and possibly staying that way postpartum.
#4 It’s a Medication Side Effect
If you just started a new medication, it might be behind any new swelling you notice in your feet. Certain medications increase water retention in the body, such as:7
- Antidepressants, particularly phenelzine
- Calcium channel blockers, like nifedipine, amlodipine, and verapamil
- Hormone medications, like birth control pills, estrogen, or testosterone
- Oral steroids, like prednisone and rosiglitazone
- Nerve pain drugs, like gabapentin and pregabalin
- Angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors
- Non-steroid anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
- Diabetes medications
If you believe your medications cause feet swelling, contact your medical provider. They can help you find a solution or additional medication to reduce any foot pain or discomfort.
#5 You Have an Underlying Health Condition
Sometimes, swollen feet are just one piece of the symptom puzzle. Certain health conditions can manifest in fluid retention or inflammation, leaving feet tender and puffy.
If your swollen feet appear to have no other cause (or come with a slew of other symptoms), consider if you might have these medical conditions:1
Chronic Venous Insufficiency
For swollen feet, chronic venous insufficiency is more a symptom than an underlying cause. This condition occurs when vein valves are damaged, severely reducing blood flow. As a result, you may get swollen limbs, aches, varicose veins, or even venous ulcers. Chronic venous insufficiency can start with any condition that stresses the veins, such as:
- A sedentary lifestyle
- Leg injury
- Blood clots
Swollen lymph nodes along with swollen feet? There’s a chance you may have lymphedema, a blockage in the lymphatic system that causes protein-rich fluid to build up. Lymphedema is usually a symptom of lymphoma, or cancer of the lymphatic system.
You may notice other symptoms in your feet like:
- Aches and pains
- Limited range of motion
- Thickened tissue
- A “tight” sensation
Kidney & Liver Conditions
The kidneys and liver are like the sewer system of the body. If these organs can’t properly filter your bodily fluids, they may leave too much sodium or toxins in your blood and cause water retention.
Besides foot swelling, kidney and liver issues come with symptoms like:
- Loss of appetite
- Dry skin
- Increased urination
- Dark urine
- Chest pain
- High blood pressure
The heart is in charge of pumping blood throughout the entire body, from head to toe. If the right ventricle of the heart fails, it can weaken circulation, cause blood to build up in the veins, and push fluid into the tissues. A heart attack, valve disorder, or lung diseases can all lead to right-sided heart failure.
Dangerous and deadly, blood clots are solid clumps of blood that block blood flowing up to the heart. If a blood clot develops deep in the vein—a condition known as deep vein thrombosis—it can quickly become fatal. Immediate swelling is a common symptom, as well as:
- Excess warmth
If uncontrolled, diabetes creates dangerously high blood sugar levels. This can damage blood vessels and reduce circulation, leaving fluid to pool in the legs. Nerve damage may become an issue down the line, since the reduced blood flow can’t deliver nutrients and oxygen sufficiently to the feet.
#6 You’re On the Mend
Inflammation may be your body’s top healing tool, but it certainly doesn’t feel helpful. After any damaging event or infection, your body creates an inflammatory response to induce healing. On the flip side, this can leave you with uncomfortable symptoms like swelling.
You might have swollen feet when healing from these conditions:
- Surgeries – Swelling is incredibly common after surgery during the healing process. The more intense the surgery, the more likely you’ll swell across your body. Of course, foot and leg surgeries have a greater chance of leaving you with swollen feet.
- Injuries – Both acute and chronic injuries in the lower body can swell up feet. Common injuries include ankle sprains, broken legs or toes, ACL tears, and knee sprains.
- Infections – When a cut turns infected, swelling is a sign that your body’s fighting off any dangerous bacteria. Infections from cellulitis, staph, and even insect bites can leave feet swollen and red.
Take Care of Your Feet with Vionic
No matter who you are, anyone can develop swollen feet. If you deal with this common condition, one of the first interventions you can make is to switch up your footwear that prioritizes the health of your feet—without sacrificing style.
Vionic designs are built to cushion feet and make them look good. Whether you need all-purpose walking sandals or casual sneakers, every Vionic footwear staple combines 40 years of shoemaking expertise with biomechanical engineering—a recipe for ultimate foot comfort.
Step into our shoes today with a 30-day trial period! If you’re not satisfied, we’ve got your purchase (and feet) covered.
- Cronkleton, Emily. “Swollen Foot, Ankle, or Leg: Causes, Treatments, and More.” Healthline. Updated 14 February, 2023.https://www.healthline.com/health/swollen-ankle-and-leg#overview
- “Sodium in Your Diet.” FDA. https://www.fda.gov/food/nutrition-education-resources-materials/sodium-your-diet
- Daya, Shabir. “Do You Suffer From Swollen Feet Or Ankles?” Victoria Health. https://editorial.victoriahealth.com/do-you-suffer-from-swollen-feet-or-ankles
- Cirino, Erica. “Alcohol Bloating: Face, Stomach, Weight Gain, and How to Get Rid of It.” Healthline. Updared 14 March, 2023. https://www.healthline.com/health/alcohol-bloating#treatment
- Dekker, Anthony. “What are the effects of alcohol on the brain?” Scientific American. 26 July, 1999.https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/what-are-the-effects-of-a/
- Appleton, Nicola. “Why Your Feet Swell During Pregnancy—And How to Get Some Relief.” VeryWell Family. 28 November, 2022. https://www.verywellfamily.com/why-do-my-feet-get-swollen-during-pregnancy-and-how-to-treat-it-5209827
- “These 7 Medications Can Cause Puffy Legs and Ankles.” GoodRX. https://www.goodrx.com/drugs/side-effects/these-7-medications-can-cause-puffy-legs-and-ankles