Developing swollen ankles can be quite painful, and it may make you concerned. Swollen ankles in the elderly are especially common and can be the result of many different conditions, some having a more benign cause while others could be a more serious medical condition.
Having swollen ankles can be painful and uncomfortable and should be looked at by a doctor. However, knowing what clues to look for will help you decide whether your case of swollen ankles is serious or not.
What causes swollen ankles in elderly?
There are many causes of swollen ankles in the elderly. Many things play a role in that area of the body and it could just be a natural reaction caused by staying on your feet for long periods or being pregnant. These cases are not serious, as the swelling often subsides after some time. However, in cases where there is recurrent swelling, it should not be ignored. The following are some possible causes of swollen ankles in the elderly:
This is the medical term for swelling and it’s characterized by poor circulation within the body, leading to fluid accumulation under the skin. Edema increases in occurrence with age, as veins stop functioning normally. This results in trapped fluids in the intracellular spaces, leading patients to experience swelling in places such as the ankles. Edema can be a sign of a serious medical condition, as it is also seen as heart failure, kidney failure, and liver failure.
A seldom-recognized part of the circulatory system is the lymphatic system. It is a network of lymphatic vessels that carry a clear fluid called lymph to the heart and other parts of the body. Lymphatic fluid often contains infection-fighting white blood cells and helps the body get rid of toxins, waste, and other unwanted material. If this fluid movement is blocked, it can lead to the swelling of various body parts, including the ankles. If it is not remedied promptly, lymph build-up can impair wound healing and lead to infection and deformity.
Gout occurs due to the accumulation of urate crystals in the joint, causing inflammation and intense pain. These crystals can form when you have high uric acid in the blood. Your body innately produces uric acid when it breaks down purines—substances that are found naturally in the body as well as in certain foods such as steak, organ meats, and seafood. Other foods that promote higher levels of uric acid include alcoholic beverages and drinks sweetened with fructose (fruit sugar).
A gout attack can occur suddenly in the affected joint but occur more commonly in the big toe. It may present as a sudden pain in the joint, with it feeling hot and swollen. The affected joint can also be so tender that even the weight of your bed sheet seems intolerable.
A common cause of ankle swelling in the elderly, as when joints begin to degenerate, they produce pain and swelling. There are many forms of arthritis, but they all have inflammation in common, which leads to joint pain, swelling, and stiffness. Autoimmune conditions, disease, and simply getting older can lead to the development of arthritis, which can present as swollen ankles.
Accidental injuries can occur at any age but the elderly are more prone, as their bones tend to be fragile. Even a minor ankle sprain can cause a fracture in the ankle bone, leading to excessive swelling and discoloration. Having excessive body weight can produce stress fractures, as putting too much pressure on weight-bearing joints can eventually do damage.
This is a blood clot that has developed in the leg veins. They have the potential to block off the major veins in the legs, leading to further complications with blood drainage. Most worrisome is the potential for a DVT to break off, becoming a free-floating blood clot called an embolus. If this occurs, it could potentially lodge itself elsewhere in the body, causing life threating conditions such as a pulmonary embolus or even a stroke.
Symptoms of swollen ankles in elderly
Depending on the underlying cause, swollen ankles differ between cases. Also, swelling that occurs in one leg and swelling that occurs in both can be a useful sign for physicians to rule out potential causes. The following are some of the most common symptoms experienced in those affected by swollen ankles:
- Skin that is easily indented (pitting edema)
- Indentations seen when removing shoes or socks
- Skin color that is often normal or slightly pale, however, with indentations that appear slightly darker
- Swelling that resolves when raising feet higher than heart level (minor cases)
- Swelling that doesn’t resolve when raising feet higher than heart level (serious cases)
- Skin that is more rigid, reddish, and possibly discolored or mottled (serious cases)
Natural treatment for swollen ankles in elderly
If your case of ankle swelling is not due to any serious causes, simply relieving the pressure will be enough to decrease pain and swelling. Lifting your feet onto a sofa or chair can be a great option for swollen ankles in elderly treatment. Placing an ice pack on the raised ankle may also provide relief. The following are some additional home remedies for ankle swelling:
- Vinegar: Known for helping soothe tendinitis, sprains, strains, and general foot aches by alternating between hot and cold foot wraps. This can be achieved by heating equal amounts of vinegar and water, soaking a towel in the mixture, and wrapping your foot with it, leaving it on for five minutes. Do the same with cold vinegar and repeat the sequence three times.
- Staying mobile: Sitting or standing for extended periods at a time discourages circulation. It is recommended to move around at least once every hour to get the blood flowing again.
- Vitamin E rich food: This includes spinach, almond oil, sweet potato, sunflower seeds, and wheat germ, and these are good for patients suffering from swollen feet, especially during pregnancy.
Exercises for swollen ankles in elderly
Ankle pumps: Start by lying down on your back, or if you prefer, you can do this exercise while seated. While making sure your feet are elevated, point your toes toward your head and point your toes in the opposite direction. Perform about 30 repetitions for three times a day.
Butt squeezes: While sitting or lying down, tighten your glute muscles firmly. Try to hold the squeeze for a few seconds and then release. Take a few seconds for a quick break then repeat. Perform 10 squeezes, three times a day.
Single knee to chest: Laying down on your back, bring one knee up to the chest. Now return that leg back to the flat position. It is important to keep the opposite leg flat while the other is performing the exercise. After finishing with one leg, switch to the other. Try to do about 10 repetitions, three times a day.
Should you be worried about swollen ankles?
Ankle swelling is often considered an obvious sign of an underlying condition such as heart failure. However, ankle swelling in these cases is much more than what a healthy adult would experience when simply standing on their feet for extended periods, or even if it was due to some infection.
If you have severe leg swelling that does not go away, along with other symptoms such as excessive fatigue, this fits the criteria of a more serious underlying condition and should prompt you to see your doctor right away. Odd discoloration of the feet and pain in the lower leg are also red flags.
How to prevent swollen ankles in elderly
Staying healthy and promoting blood circulation are the main things to help prevent swelling in the ankles or any part of the body. The following are some tips to help prevent ankle swelling:
- Do not sit or stand for long periods of time. At the very least, take a brief walk every hour or so.
- While sitting or lying down, try to keep the legs raised in an elevated position.
- Purchase support stockings.
- Restrict the amount of sodium as it can promote fluid retention.
- Use hot and cold compresses to reduce pain and swelling.
- Perform mild stretches to improve strength and flexibility.
- Losing weight will help ease the stress and pressure on weight-bearing joints such as the ankles.