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Exercise and Edema

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Can exercise help reduce edema? Let’s find out.

Edema is a condition that causes fluid to accumulate in the body’s tissues and result in swelling. Talk to your healthcare provider if you have any concerns about the swelling in your legs and to see which exercises are best for you.

Though there are diuretics available to treat edema, you may try a few exercises to keep your edema under control. However, you must check with your doctor before beginning any exercise program. 

There are several types of exercises you can engage in to reduce edema, depending on your fitness level and how much swelling you are experiencing.

Basic exercises include elevated leg kicks, standing on your toes, and pumping your feet like you are pedaling a bicycle.

If you are more physically active, you may use light weights and have a regular walking routine to help reduce water retention.

Exercise and Edema - Case Studies 

According to a study by Drs. Jerry O. Ciocon of the Cleveland Clinic Florida, elevated leg exercise is highly effective in reducing edema, especially if you are elderly. 

A two-year study published in January 1995, involved 245 patients with an average age of 73, who were administered with regular exercise. The results showed a significant improvement in leg edema

If you are pregnant and have swelling in your ankles or legs, performing leg exercise in water may help in reducing the edema symptoms. 

In the "American Family Physician" journal, Dr. Linda French mentions a study that showed a positive reduction in leg edema of otherwise healthy pregnant women after leg exercise in water. 

A cohort study published in American Family Physician in 2006 examined the effectiveness of immersion therapy in reducing edema in 8 outpatient pregnant women.

These women participated in 45-minute immersion water exercises and their lower leg volumes were measured before and after the exercise session. The results showed that even a session of water immersion exercise was enough to provide a significant reduction in pedal edema in women with uncomplicated pregnancies.

Exercises for Leg Edema

The Ohio State University Medical Center recommends relieving leg edema through the elevated resting technique.

Lie down comfortably and use two or three pillows to elevate your feet and legs above the level of your heart for approximately 45 minutes to one hour. Do this three times a day to reduce swelling.

Exercise should be combined with compression therapy to provide the best benefits.

Compression stockings essentially provide passive leg exercises. They help the leg muscle generate a pump pressure which squeezes out water from the legs, constricts blood vessels, and encourage the lymphatic system to draw away fluids from the limbs.

However, the most common question edema patients ask concerning exercising is how much is enough?

There is no one correct answer to this question because the fitness level of each individual differs. Also, the severity of each patient’s edema will largely determine how much exercise is too much.

Generally, aerobic exercises are the most useful because they task the lungs, heart, and muscles. Start with only a little exercise and for a short period of time. As long as you keep a consistent exercise schedule, you will soon be increasing the duration and amount of exercise you get.

Find a partner if you can because the good company increases your participation and enjoyment of the exercise. Do not invest a lot of money in home gym equipment. Keep your exercises simple and remember not to overexert yourself. 

Exercises for Edema

Try water workouts such as swimming, water walking, or water aerobics to reduce symptoms of edema. The force exerted by muscles against the pressure of the water helps in moving the fluid buildup from tissues. 

The buoyant environment is favorable for those with edema because there is less stress on muscles and joints.


Edema occurs when the fluid gets trapped in your tissues while circulating back to the heart. The leg contractions while walking helps in releasing the trapped fluid out of the tissues. It also improves blood circulation that flushes out the excess fluids. 

Remember that excess walking may aggravate swelling, so keep aside approximately 30 minutes per day for walking.

Seated Exercise

If you are tied to a job that requires you to sit most of the day or if you have recently undergone surgery, here are some seated exercises that you may try. 

Try ankle pumps by pointing your toes outwards, and then flexing them back to your body. Do this for about 30 seconds, relax and repeat it 10 times.

Try a Natural Fluid Retention Remedy 

You may also consider taking natural supplements such as Capisette, an effective alternative to prescription diuretics. It contains powerful ingredients such as Dandelion extract, horse chestnut, ginkgo biloba, and buchu extracts.

Exercise-induced Peripheral Edema

Exercise-induced edema is a common occurrence affecting athletes and joggers. The swelling usually presents on the hands, legs, and sometimes on the face.

Swelling during exercise is caused by a physiological response to the redistribution of blood during the exertion caused by exercises.

While the exact mechanism of edemas caused by swelling is not fully understood, a basic knowledge of edema and the way the body works can be used to explain how exercises may cause swelling in some people.

During exercises, the organs receiving the most blood are the lungs and heart. This means that blood flow to the limbs is lower. To compensate for the reduced blood flow to the limbs, the blood vessels supplying those body parts expand as they try to get more blood into the area.

While the core muscles heat up during exercise, the limbs get colder. To reduce core heat, blood is pushed to the vessels closest to the skin to dissipate the heat as sweats.

Because the blood vessels are already dilated in the limbs, their permeability is increased.  Therefore, when blood reaches the skin to dissipate heat, fluids leak out of the vessels into the extracellular spaces and this causes swelling of the limbs and face.

Long-distance runners suffer even more severe forms of edema during exercises. These athletes often suffer from hyponatremia (low levels of sodium in the body) because they drink too much water to combat dehydration.

Besides swollen fingers, hands, and feet, hyponatremia can also cause mental confusion and vomiting. It is a medical condition that needs immediate treatment.

How to Relieve Exercise-induced Peripheral Edema

While there are no established guidelines to reduce exercise-induced edema, a few precautions can help.

Make sure to remove anything that can restrict blood flow to your fingers and arms during exercise. Rings should be removed; watchbands and armbands should be loosened.

Flexing your fingers and bunching your fists during exercises can also help reduce the widening of blood vessels and the pooling of fluids that can cause edema.

Furthermore, learn to take breaks when exercising. During these breaks, stretch and move your arms and legs to restore blood flow.

Exercise-induced Pulmonary Edema

Pulmonary edema caused by exercise is well documented for water exercises (swimming and diving). This is called immersion pulmonary edema.

However, pulmonary edema caused by land exercises is rare and its occurrence is still highly debated amongst researchers.

Pulmonary edema is caused during strenuous exercise because of changes in the alveolar surface and blood flow in the capillaries of the lungs. This causes the buildup of blood pressure in the capillaries which become distended and permeable from the hydrostatic force.

Fluids can, therefore, leak out of the capillaries into the lungs. If the lymphatic system cannot clear away this fluid as quickly as it is produced, then pulmonary edema will result. 

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