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My Legs Are Red and Swollen. Is This Serious?

Your body can only take so much. So, when you work on your feet all day, it’s only normal to feel sore. But what if you’re noticing something changing? Instead of being sore like usual, each workday ends with your legs being red and swollen. Could this be a sign of something more serious?

We spoke with Colton Redding, MD, a family medicine specialist at Banner Health Center in Loveland, CO, to better explain the potential causes for your red, swollen legs and why you should visit your primary care physician.

What could it be?

Leg swelling may be a sign of a circulation problem. Most likely what you are experiencing is called edema. “Edema is the actual swelling of the ankles and the legs, typically caused by venous hypertension or venous insufficiency, said Dr. Redding.

What causes edema?

Venous hypertension or venous insufficiency are usually caused by one of the following factors:

  • An obstruction or blockage in the veins, which can come from a tumor, or a deep vein thrombus.
  • A problem with the valves in the veins. Valvular impairment allows pooling of blood in the lower legs due to the vein’s inability to push the blood back up through the legs.
  • A muscle pump failure. Muscle pump failure usually is due to inactivity, neuromuscular disease, aging, arthritis, a sedentary lifestyle, or being on your feet for long periods of time.

Your life history can determine how your circulation system moves blood through your veins in your legs. Some factors that may cause venous insufficiency include:

Or, for some people, it is their working conditions. Some stand, or are on their feet, all day at work. Others who remain in the same sitting position all day may find themselves with the same kind of swelling.

How can I treat my red, swollen legs?

The good news is there are several simple ways to relieve swollen legs. “The easiest way to get circulation going is to move your legs, Dr. Redding said. “Movement keeps the circulation pumping and your blood is less likely to stagnate.” If you are on your feet all day, are you standing still or walking around?

Here are some important things you can do to lessen the edema:

  • Exercise: Walking around, going up and down steps, or just strolling to a different part of the office and back will help move the blood through your legs. If you must stand in one place, do some ankle pumps where you flex your ankle down toward the ground and then up toward your knee. Just that slight movement will help with circulation.
  • Leg elevation: Elevating your legs and feet 6 to 12 inches higher than your heart whenever possible will also decrease swelling. If you have the chance to sit down during the day, use a foot stool or chair to make your legs at least even with your body. If this is not possible, then elevate your legs as soon as you get home.
  • Support stockings (only on a physician’s recommendation): The snug fit of the support stocking comes from the tight weave—gently squeezing your veins and muscles in the lower legs, thus assisting with your lower leg circulation. You should put the stockings on first thing in the morning, before your legs start to swell.

A quick tip for at night: When you take the stockings off, moisturize your legs with a lotion. The lotion will keep your legs hydrated and your skin healthy. If the skin is healthy and moist, then cracks and leg ulcers or sores are less likely to happen.

If you think edema may be affecting you, visit your health care provider to determine what treatments may be right for you, or visit bannerhealth.com to find a provider near you.

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