The main reason why most of us exercise is to either slim down or shape up — so it can be quite alarming to end a tough workout with legs that are larger and more swollen then when you started. Swelling is normally always caused by micro-trauma to your muscles that takes place during exercise, and is nothing to be concerned about. However, in some cases, swelling can be a sign of a serious condition that needs medical attention.
In this video, we’re covering the most common causes of leg swelling after exercise – and we’ll finish with a few tips about how to prevent it.
So, let’s get into those common causes of leg swelling:
1. Micro-Trauma and Swelling
When you exercise, your muscles go through quite a bit of stress. The fibres tear and stretch.
This isn’t a sign that you’re doing it wrong – it’s actually normal, and is what makes exercise valuable. Your body responds to this trauma by repairing and becoming stronger and more resilient.
The initial stress increases blood flow to affected areas, as they rush to repair the stress. This is when you may experience some swelling.
2. Swelling From Injury
Any sort of leg injury, no matter how serious, will most likely cause some leg swelling. Whether you’ve twisted your ankle, torn a muscle, or worse, broken a bone, you’ll experience some inflammatory swelling.
If you have an injury, you will definitely know about it. But if you need another sign that your swelling is caused by injury, check one leg against the other. Obviously, the swollen leg will be the injured one, while the other leg will be normal in thickness.
3. Disease and Swelling
Fluid retention in your legs can make them look swollen and larger than usual. It’s important not to shrug off fluid retention, as it can be a symptom of underlying heart, kidney, liver or endocrine disease.
Complications in your body makes it more difficult for fluid to get to where it needs to be via the lymphatic or circulatory system. Exercise can aggravate the pooling of fluids, making swelling even more obvious right after you work out.
4. Swelling and Veins
In rarer cases, swelling in your legs is caused by failing valves in your veins. Normally, the valves in your leg veins work one way to move blood up toward your heart. When these valves stop working properly, the blood gets backed up, causing swelling.
Exercise causes this swelling to become exaggerated because blood is flowing more rapidly at a higher volume.
Pregnancy can be another cause of fluid retention in your legs post-exercise. This is completely normal, and you won’t usually have to do anything to “cure” the issue, aside from finding ways to alleviate the discomfort.
Exercising while pregnant is healthy, but if you’re concerned, talk to your doctor about how often and the type that's best for you.
Even if you aren't pregnant, hormonal changes that occur with your cycle can make you retain water. If you're a woman and the swelling occurs at the same time each month, it’s most likely due to PMS.
The hormonal ups and downs that occur with menopause can also cause leg swelling that's most obvious after exercise.
Stopping leg swelling
Reducing and eliminating leg swelling after exercise is normally very easy. Some of the best ways to get your legs back to their normal size are as follows:
- Apply a cold or ice compress to the area for 20 minutes if the swelling is only in one area, such as if you’ve sustained an injury.
- Elevate your feet on pillows. Getting your feet above heart level passively drains excess fluid from your legs.
- Limit your daily salt intake. Excess sodium in your diet can contribute to your leg swelling problem. Aim for less than 1,500 milligrams per day.
- Remove any tight or restrictive clothing, like bicycle shorts. Restrictive clothing can work like an elastic band on your skin, preventing fluids from returning to your heart during exercise.
- Wear support stockings on both feet and legs if you own them. You can buy these from most retail pharmacy stores. Support stockings apply gentle compression to your lower extremities, and while they don’t look very cool, they’re very good at what they do.
- Try mixing up your exercise routine. Exercises that have you seated or standing for an extended period of time may contribute to your swelling.
- Try the “Legs Up the Wall” yoga pose. Lie on your back with your feet propped up against a wall. Stay in the position for 5 to 10 minutes to reverse the flow of blood and alleviate the swelling.
If you’re fed up with leg swelling after exercises, this video should help you to figure out the cause and eliminate swelling as quickly as possible. Don't allow your condition to worsen if these home remedies aren't working, though, and talk to your doctor if the swelling is getting more severe.
There are also certain oils, creams, and support that can help leg swelling, so check out the best ones below
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