How to Treat Diabetes Swollen Feet, Ankles, and Legs?

Published on January 31, 2022

Diabetes swollen feet

Diabetes swollen feet is a common foot problem among people living with diabetes. There’s a clear relationship between diabetes and peripheral edema – swelling in the feet, ankles, or legs. Swelling is often a sign of two diabetes complications affecting the lower limbs: peripheral artery disease and diabetic neuropathy

Keeping your blood sugar levels in range and following a healthy lifestyle with a good diabetic foot care routine noticeably help reduce diabetes swollen feet and the pain and discomfort they  cause. A few tips, accessories, and home remedies such as foot soaks, leg elevation, foot massages, or diabetic shoes for swollen feet work great in most cases!

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What are diabetes swollen feet?

Why do diabetics have swollen feet?

How to prevent swollen feet from diabetes?

10 tips to reduce swelling from diabetes

What are diabetes swollen feet?

When not properly managed, diabetes can cause many problems to one’s feet and legs. Diabetic foot pain caused by peripheral neuropathy is the most famed and feared one, but diabetes swollen feet can also be painful and incapacitating.

Peripheral edema

Foot and leg swelling is scientifically called peripheral edema. It happens when excess fluid builds up in the body tissues. Peripheral edema can affect the feet, ankles, legs, and arms. Numerous factors can cause our lower limbs to swell: kidney or liver dysfunction, heart problems, chemotherapy, hot weather, burns, hormonal changes, lymphedema, obesity, pregnancy, medication, lifestyle, etc., and … diabetes. Feet and leg swelling can also occur after eating salty foods, standing, or sitting in the same position for too long.

Symptoms of diabetes swollen feet

If you have edema, you will usually notice some of the following symptoms: swelling in the lower limbs, stretched skin, shiny skin, or skin that stays indented after being pressed (pits or dimples). Swollen feet, ankles, and legs can be painless or painful. It’s generally not a cause for concern, but swollen feet can be the sign of an underlying condition such as diabetes, heart disease, obesity, kidney dysfunction, or others.
Skin pits are often a sign of swollen feet (edema)

Relationship between diabetes and swollen feet

Swollen feet are not a sign of diabetes. They’re a sign of uncontrolled diabetes. If your blood sugar levels are in range and your A1c stays below 7%, you should not be at greater risk of edema than someone who does not have diabetes. Diabetes swollen feet often occur along with other diabetes complications.

Peripheral artery disease and poor blood circulation

Diabetes leg and foot swelling is most often caused by peripheral artery disease, a common yet serious diabetes complication. High levels of sugar that accumulate in our bloodstream damage the lining of the small blood vessels – the capillaries – causing poor blood circulation. When blood does not flow enough, fluid gets trapped in the body extremities such as the legs, ankles, and feet. That’s what can cause diabetic feet to swell.

Diabetic neuropathy and slow healing process

Another relationship between diabetes and swollen feet is found is diabetic peripheral neuropathy. High blood glucose levels over time also damage the nerves in our lower limb. Damaged nerves often lead to a loss of sensation or numbness that makes it difficult to notice injuries, wounds, and infections. Untreated sprains, fractures, and infections can also trigger swelling.

How to prevent diabetes swollen feet?

If you’re not suffering from swollen feet caused by diabetes yet, you can prevent it from happening in the future. Just like for any other diabetes complications, keeping your blood glucose in range and staying fit is often enough to stay away from troubles.

Keep your HbA1c below 7%

The very first and most important thing to do in order to prevent diabetes swollen feet is to keep your diabetes under control. As explained above, swollen feet usually happen along with two diabetes complications: peripheral artery disease and diabetic peripheral neuropathy. If your blood glucose levels stay in range and your HbA1c is below 7%, you should stay away from these complications, and consequently from diabetes swollen feet.

Lose weight and exercise

Obesity is often directly linked to diabetes. Being overweight also considerably increases the risk of foot and leg swelling, as excess body mass decreases blood circulation. Staying fit and active drastically reduces the risk of diabetes swollen feet, along with any other diabetes complications!

10 tips to reduce diabetes swollen feet

Diabetes swollen feet can be very painful and cause great difficulty to walk or even stand up. Fortunately, there are lots of things to try at home to help reduce the swelling and discomfort. Here are 10 tips to help reduce foot and leg swelling caused by diabetes:


Remember: swollen feet can be a sign of severe diabetes complications. Always ask for your doctor’s advice first and don’t forget to get your yearly diabetic foot exam


 

Elevate swollen legs above heart level

Use gravity to your advantage and elevate your swollen legs and feet above the level of your heart. This position helps the excess fluid accumulated in the lower limb circulate back towards the heart. You can put a pillow below your legs in bed. Or lay on a mat on the floor and put your legs up the wall. If you’re sitting at your desk, try placing your feet on top of an ottoman. Start with 20 minutes session 2 or 3 times a day, and increase if needed.

Avoid a sedentary lifestyle

Movement is one of the most efficient ways to prevent your feet from swelling. Avoid a sedentary lifestyle. Don’t stay in the same position all day. Don’t sit on the couch or at the desk for hours without moving. Whatever you’re doing, remember to stretch your legs and keep your feet moving as often as possible. Physical exercise 30 minutes a day is a great way not only to reduce swelling and improve blood flow but also to stay fit and lower your blood glucose levels.

Reduce salt intake and processed foods

Too much salt in your diet can cause swelling too. The body retains extra sodium which increases the amount of fluid and water retention. The 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that a healthy adult consumes less than 2,300 mg of sodium per day.  However, Americans eat on average 3,400 mg of sodium per day. Most of the excess sodium we eat comes from processed foods, which also contain excess sugars. When living with diabetes, whether or not you have swollen feet, stay away from processed foods and cook fresh foods as much as possible.

Wear shoes for diabetic swollen feet

Edema can make it difficult to walk comfortably and most shoes don’t accommodate swollen feet. Some orthopedic footwear companies have managed to design shoes for diabetics with swollen feet. They come with extra-wide openings, pressure-free designs, heavy cushioning, and enhanced comfort. Wearing shoes for swollen feet can considerably reduce pain and discomfort while improving blood circulation and actually reducing the swelling.

Massage swollen feet, ankles, and legs

Massages have been proven to help increase blood circulation and reduce swelling by draining excessive fluid. Try gently massaging your lower limbs for at least 30-60 minutes a day from the bottom of your feet upwards towards the heart. You can massage with your hands, book massage therapy sessions, or use a foot massager for neuropathy and swollen feet at home.

Use compression socks for swollen feet

Compression socks and stockings are made to boost blood circulation from the lower limbs back to the heart. They can significantly help reduce foot, ankle, and leg swelling. However, if you have diabetes, and especially if you have been diagnosed with peripheral artery disease, you should ask for your doctor’s advice before wearing compression socks. In some cases, they could do more harm than good. Read more: should diabetics wear compression socks?

Stay hydrated to reduce swelling

Drinking more water when your body is swelling because of the accumulation of excess fluid might sound counterintuitive, but it’s not. The more water your drink, the more liquid you expel with urines. In other words, the more water you drink, the less you retain. You should drink at least 8 to 10 glasses of water per day. Note: Some causes of edema related to heart or liver problems may need a water restriction instead. Ask for your doctor’s advice before increasing your water intake.

Essential oils for swelling

Although not FDA-regulated, the therapeutic effects of essential oils have long been documented now. Some essential oils are believed to considerably help reduce chronic swelling. Spruce, Neroli, Plai, Lemon, Hemp, Peppermint, Eucalyptus, and Chamomille are often combined in anti-swell aromatherapy blends. Essential oils can also be used to manage diabetic neuropathy foot pain.

Soak your swollen feet in Epsom salts

Epsom salts foot soak is one of the easiest and cheapest home remedies for swollen feet you can try at home. Epsom salts contain high levels of magnesium and sulfates. When used in foot baths, they’re believed to help reduce pain, swelling, and inflammation, as well as to soothe the skin and promote overall foot health. Add about half a cup of Epsom salts in a basin or foot spa filled with warm water. Soak your feet for 20-30 minutes and dry thoroughly. You can add oils and essential oils to your Epsom salt foot bath. Be sure to purchase Epsom salt with the USP label for human use.


Note: diabetes swollen feet can be a sign of peripheral artery disease or diabetic peripheral neuropathy. You should always ask for your doctor’s advice before soaking your feet or applying any lotion.

Swollen feet and magnesium deficiency

Water retention in the lower limbs and swelling can be a sign of a magnesium deficiency. In that case, treatments including magnesium-rich foods or magnesium supplements usually work great. Men are recommended to have 400-420 milligrams of magnesium a day. For women, the recommendations are 310-320 milligrams a day. There’s a great amount of magnesium in foods like nuts, legumes, spinach, beans, tuna, dark chocolate, or bananas for example. Choose mineral water that has a higher level of magnesium. If that’s not enough, ask for your doctor’s advice about magnesium supplements. 

Note: If you live with diabetes, always ask for your doctor’s advice before changing your diet or taking any food supplements.