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Water and Fluid Retention in Your Legs

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This article explores effective treatment options available to you to reduce water retention in your legs including various exercises, lifestyle & dietary changes, home remedies, drugs, herbs & supplements, and more.

Water and  Fluid retention in legs, also known as edema, is a medical condition caused by abnormal accumulation of water or fluids in the body's tissues. Though excess water can be accumulated anywhere in the body, the most common areas are the ankles and legs. The swelling is typically caused by large amounts of fluid accumulating in the feet, ankles, and legs (but it can also happen elsewhere in the body). Edema is a symptom, not a condition. Edema can be caused by a wide range of problems, from simple circulation issues to pregnancy, to serious medical issues.

You must ensure that this water retention is not caused by any other medical condition such as heart or kidney complications. If so, edema symptoms can be relieved by treating that particular condition. 

After these problems are ruled out, you may try some home remedies and diuretics to alleviate your edema symptoms. Here are a few simple things you can do to control fluid retention in the legs. 

Pedal edema or water retention in the legs usually presents with soft and swollen ankles.

Since the ankle is a joint linking the foot to the upper leg, it has an extensive network of blood vessels running through it. When some of these vessels are constricted, blood flow is restricted in the leg, and edema quickly results.

When the blood vessels get constricted, they usually swell up, and their walls become permeable. This permeability leads to the leakage of fluids into the extracellular spaces.

The hydrostatic pressure (pressure due to water) in the tissue rises sharply just as the oncotic pressure (pressure due to plasma proteins) falls in the blood vessels and rises in the tissues.

If the lymphatic system is inefficient, then water is retained in the tissues instead of being drained away to the lymph nodes.

This form of pedal edema can be complicated if certain water-loving compounds are also deposited in the tissues. These hydrophilic compounds are carbohydrate-like, and they swell up when they absorb water.

Water Retention in Your Legs Symptoms

If you notice swelling in your legs, it will be pretty apparent that you have edema, but these symptoms can also indicate edema, including:

  • Swollen limbs
  • Dimples that remain in the skin after pressing
  • Puffy face
  • Abdominal bloating
  • Muscle pain
  • Shortness of breath

Causes of Fluid Retention in Your Legs

A wide variety of conditions can cause fluid retention. If a serious health problem is the cause of edema, contact a doctor right away to treat the root cause of your edema. However, for most edema sufferers, edema is caused by mild conditions, including:

  • Side effects of medication
  • Sitting or standing for long periods
  • Injury
  • Poor circulation
  • Eating salty foods
  • Too high or too low blood pressure
  • Exposure to high altitudes or extreme heat (like a long plane ride)
  • A sudden increase in physical exertion

Use the remedies outlined below to help relieve mild water retention in your legs once and for all.

Exercises for Edema 

Your body requires enough exercise to promote healthy circulation and maintain fluid regulation in the tissues to prevent fluid retention in the legs.

When there is little or no exercise, the lower extremities are at risk because they have naturally poor circulation. So, consider exercising 30 minutes daily to reduce water retention in the legs. 

You do not need strenuous exercises to reduce edema in your legs. Simple, regular activities are appropriate, and you should take a few minutes of rest while exercising to prevent the development of exercise-induced edema.

Instead of investing in expensive exercise equipment, you will do better with a pair of comfortable running shoes and a dedicated exercise partner.

You should also consider leg massages to help reduce water retention in your legs.

If your pedal edema is moderate to severe, then you will be best served by a trained professional. 

Try these six simple exercises to get the blood moving in your legs and ankles and encourage the fluid to move back where it belongs.

The Point and Flex

This exercise improves circulation and restores mobility to your ankles. You can even do this exercise while sitting.

First, sit on the floor with one leg extended away from your body. Sit up straight and keep your arms by your side. Point the toes of the extended foot as far forward as possible. Hold the post for five seconds. Bend your foot back as far as possible toward your body and hold for five more seconds. Repeat this movement ten times. Extend your other leg and repeat the entire process.

The ABCs

This simple exercise improves mobility and encourages circulation in your legs. Sit on a chair with your back straight and your feet flat on the floor. Place your hands on the top of your thighs. Extend your right leg out until it sits parallel to the floor.

In this position, write the alphabet with your raised foot. Return your leg, extend the other, and repeat the alphabet.

The Ball Massage

Massaging your feet with a tennis ball can significantly improve circulation in the area.

Sit on a chair with your feet on the floor. Place a tennis ball (or any other small ball if you don't have a tennis ball) on the floor under one of your feet. Rub your foot gently over the top of the ball for about one minute. Move the ball to your other foot and repeat. Keep switching feet for about 10 minutes before moving on to another exercise.

The Toe Squeeze

Strengthening your toe muscles will also help improve circulation in your feet and legs, reducing edema symptoms.

Sit on the ground. Place a cotton ball between each one of your toes (you will need four per foot). Tighten your abdominal muscles, sit up straight, and set your shoulders back. Gently squeeze your toes together. Hold the squeeze for five seconds before relaxing. Repeat 10 times, then switch feet and repeat the squeezing motion ten times for the other foot.

The Foot Rocker

The foot rocker is a simple exercise that will not only reduce edema in your legs but will also strengthen your foot and leg muscles.

Stand flat on your feet with your stomach tucked in and your shoulders back. Rock forward onto the balls of your feet. Quickly reverse the rocking motion, so you land on the heels of your feet. Complete ten rocking motions, pause for 30 seconds, and repeat another set of 10 rocks. Focus on rocking using muscle power, not momentum from your weight.

Compression Stockings Help Reduce Fluid Retention in Legs 

Many times the compression stockings are marketed as being for people with diabetes because diabetic people are prone to severe edema. 

These socks improve circulation and reduce swelling in the legs where plain socks may even worsen the problem by restricting circulation. 

Compression stockings exert graduated pressure on the legs and can help get rid of water retention in the legs. The highest pressure is produced at the ankles since most pedal edemas result from reduced blood flow caused by constricted blood vessels at the ankles.

There are different types of compression stockings, with each type producing a varying amount of pressure.

The non-prescription compression stockings provide the least pressure, which is below 20 mmHg. They are intended to treat mild edema.

Prescription compression stockings provide even greater pressure. Before prescribing them, a doctor needs to calculate the ABI or Ankle Brachial Index for each leg.

When the ABI value is less than 1.0, compression stockings are not recommended since the pressure exerted can block blood flow in the arteries running through the ankles.

Elevate Your Feet to Reduce Fluid Retention in Legs

Elevate your feet above with the help of a pillow while relaxing at home. Try this at least once a day for 5-10 minutes. This will encourage excess fluid to drain out of your legs and improve circulation. 

For further elevation, you may use leg wedges, which will keep your feet and legs raised while you sleep. 

Healthy Diet to Reduce Fluid Retention in Legs

You must also stick to a healthy, low-sodium diet that is high in fiber and drink plenty of water to further fight water retention in the legs. Follow the general doctor-recommended eating plan below if you suffer from chronic edema.

Sodium and Edema

Sodium is often responsible for much of the minor cases of edema. Salt is important for retaining proper fluid balance in the body. Too much salt and your body will try to hold on to extra water to counteract it. Usually, you'll feel bloated after consuming a high-salt meal for this reason. Reducing your salt intake can benefit those with chronic edema. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends individuals who suffer from edema to limit their salt intake to about 2,000 milligrams of salt daily, which is about half a teaspoon.

Switching to low-sodium foods is one of the easiest ways to limit salt intake. In general, foods that are not processed are far less likely to be high in salt. Junk food and prepackaged foods, on the other hand, tend to be high in salt, making it very easy to consume more than half a teaspoon of salt in a day.

Low sodium foods can include:

  • Fresh fruit
  • Fresh vegetables (canned vegetables often have added salt)
  • Milk
  • Yogurt
  • Fresh meats and fish

High sodium foods, on the other hand, should be avoided. The FDA estimates that only 11 percent of your daily salt intake comes from adding salt to food. Twelve percent of your salt intake comes from natural sodium. Seventy-seven percent, however, is added to processed foods. If you eliminate processed foods from your diet, your salt intake will drop dramatically, reducing edema within just a few days. Avoid foods like pre-flavored meats, boxed meals, and packaged sauces. Making food fresh in your kitchen is an easier way to avoid salt overload and control how much salt is actually present in the foods you eat. 

Drugs for Edema

Diuretics are the major drugs used in treating water and fluid retention in the legs.

They work by preventing the reabsorption of water in the kidneys. This leads to increased urine production and a quick reduction in the amount of water retained in the body.

There are three major classes of diuretics used in treating pedal edema. These are loop diuretics, thiazide diuretics, and potassium-sparing diuretics.

Each of these classes of diuretics has its own advantages and disadvantages.

Loop diuretics, for example, are very effective. They are also the most popular diuretics and are especially recommended for edema patients who also suffer from renal impairment, liver cirrhosis, heart failure, or nephrotic syndrome.

However, loop diuretics flush away potassium and calcium along with sodium and water. Therefore, they may cause side effects related to low levels of potassium and calcium. For this reason, potassium supplements are recommended to be taken along with loop diuretics.

Thiazide diuretics are also effective. They are sometimes even combined with loop diuretics to increase the rate at which water is removed from the body. However, thiazide diuretics promote potassium loss as well.

They also cause the accumulation of uric acid and can interfere with proper glucose control. Therefore, thiazides are not recommended for edema patients with gout or diabetes. They are also not recommended for pregnant women.

Potassium-sparing diuretics differ from the other types of diuretics simply because they do not inhibit the reabsorption of potassium. Therefore, they are recommended for patients who have a high risk of hypokalemia. However, they may also cause hyperkalemia.

Natural Remedies for Edema

For those who prefer natural remedies, some herbs also have diuretic properties. These herbs work gently to boost circulation, reduce fluid retention, and eliminate excess water without causing mineral and electrolyte loss. The University of Maryland recommends drinking herbal tea filled with edema-fighting herbs, but you can also take a daily supplement to encourage swelling to go down. In general, herbs should only be taken as a temporary measure to keep edema in check until the long-lasting remedies kick in, including weight loss, exercise, and diet changes. Supplements can work to encourage circulation and provide balance to any diet.

Always consult with your doctor before taking any supplements for edema as herbs can have side effects and interactions with medications and certain health conditions. Pregnant women, for example, should not take parsley supplements as it has been known to stimulate uterine contractions.

The following herbs have been linked with reducing edema by eliminating excess water in the body, balancing electrolytes, or strengthening the blood vessels to prevent fluid from leaking into nearby tissues.

Natural Remedies for Water Retention in Legs

Many home remedies are effective at preventing and relieving edema symptoms. Don't start any treatments without first contacting a doctor to rule out more serious causes and get approval for any home remedies you try to reduce water retention. The following home remedies are effective at reducing edema symptoms:

Diet Changes

Reduce any possible food allergens, like dairy, wheat, soy, corn, chemical food additives, dyes, and preservatives.

Cut your salt intake by eliminating processed foods from your diet. Even sweet drinks often have added salt.
Increase your intake of diuretic vegetables, like parsley, asparagus, beets, grapes, green beans, pineapple, pumpkin, onions, garlic, and leeks.

Eat foods high in B vitamins (this helps to strengthen your blood vessels and prevents edema). Foods, including whole grains, leafy greens, kale, sea vegetables, and spinach are all high in B vitamins.

Increase your intake of antioxidants from foods like blueberries, cherries, squash, tomatoes, and bell peppers.

Epsom Salt Bath

Epsom salt is also effective at reducing edema due to its high magnesium content. Epsom salt reduces inflammation and can relieve swelling on the spot. Keep your feet elevated when soaking in an Epsom salt bath for the biggest results.


Regular massage can also help relieve edema on the spot. Massage the area up toward the chest rather than down toward the leg, which will gently move fluid back up and encourage proper circulation.

Reduce Salt Intake

One of the main triggers for edema is a diet too high in salt. Reducing salt intake can cut down on edema symptoms (if the high salt diet is the cause). Consuming too much sodium upsets the electrolyte balance in the body, which encourages your body to hold on to excess water. The USDA recommends adults eat no more than 2,300 mg of sodium daily.

Salt tends to lurk more in processed foods than in any added salts. Prepackaged food and restaurant food are incredibly high in salt, which is where most Americans get their salt. If you switch to eating more foods at home, you'll be much better off and healthier overall.

Herbs for Edema

Always consult with your doctor before taking any supplements for edema as herbs can have side effects and interactions with medications and certain health conditions. Pregnant women, for example, should not take parsley supplements as it has been known to stimulate uterine contractions.

The following herbs have been linked with reducing edema by eliminating excess water in the body, balancing electrolytes, or strengthening the blood vessels to prevent fluid from leaking into nearby tissues.

Butcher's Broom to Strengthen the Blood Vessels

Butcher's broom is an herb native to Africa. The plant has been used for many years to treat edema and swelling. Butcher's broom contains compounds like prazosin,  steroidal saponins ruscogenin, and neo ruscogenin to reduce the permeability of blood vessels and strengthen the walls of blood vessels to prevent edema from coming back.

Goldenrod to Reduce Swelling

Goldenrod is an anti-inflammatory herb, which makes it ideal for preventing edema from returning. Goldenrod has been found to reduce edema in multiple studies. Goldenrod was most effective at reducing paw edema in animal studies.

Goosegrass to Eliminate Excess Fluid

Goosegrass is a herbal weed that contains sticky seeds. The seeds are credited with the ability to fight edema by encouraging the output of excess fluid. The University of Michigan credits goosegrass with anti-inflammatory properties and as a mild diuretic.

Horse Chestnut to Strengthen the Veins

Horse chestnut is an herb native to Germany that has been used to reduce edema for hundreds of years. The herb strengthens the blood vessels and prevents fluid from leaking into surrounding tissues. Horse chestnut improves circulation and helps prevent edema from returning.

Uva Ursi to Reduce Inflammation

Inflammation is a common cause of mild edema. Uva ursi is an herb native to North America that is credited with the ability to reduce inflammation and prevent the accumulation of fluids in the body. A study from 1992 by Kinki University in Japan found that uva ursi extracts could reduce swelling thanks to an ingredient called arbutin.

Ginkgo Biloba to Improve Blood Flow

Ginkgo biloba is a large tree native to Asia. The tree's seeds are used for many herbal remedies, including the fight against edema. Ginkgo biloba has been shown in numerous studies to benefit edema and reduce inflammation and swelling. Supplements of ginkgo biloba have been found to improve blood vessel health.

Buchu to Promote Elimination of Fluid

Buchu is a shrub native to South Africa. The leaves of the Buchu plant are used in herbal remedies to treat edema. The compounds in buchu, including rutin, diosmin, quercetin, and hesperidin, act as mild diuretics to remove excess fluid from the body. Buchu can be taken as an herbal supplement or made into a tea.

Other Helpful Herbs for Edema

  • Bilberry: Provides antioxidant support and is a mild blood thinner.

  • Grape seed extract: Grape seed extract improves circulation and makes blood vessels stronger and less likely to leak fluid into nearby tissues.

  • Peppermint: Peppermint reduces swelling in the hands and feet.

  • Juniper: Juniper helps relieve edema by reducing excess water rates. Juniper also improves kidney function.

  • Horsetail: Horsetail encourages the removal of excess fluid.

  • Yarrow: Rids the body of excess fluid.

  • Watercress: Improves liver and kidney function.

  • Corn silk: A mild diuretic.

  • Rosemary: Reduces bloating.

  • Butcher's broom: Reduces leg edema and strengthens the veins.

You Can Reduce Fluid Retention in Legs Naturally

Fluid retention in legs is a common condition caused by many factors, including illness, medications, and high salt intake. Most cases of edema can be treated easily at home by improving your diet, exercising regularly, and taking herbal supplements to eliminate excess water from your body. A few simple changes can make a large difference in the overall quality of your life and reduce excess edema at the same time. Before making any drastic lifestyle changes or adding a lot of supplements to your diet, consult with a doctor to rule out dangerous conditions that might be causing your edema. 

Next Article: Edema Diet: Foods to Avoid for Edema