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Swollen legs or feet are often due to water in the legs. This leads to problems for many people, especially in summer. The aesthetic components are only a small part of the suffering of those affected. Find out what causes the symptoms, when water in the legs becomes dangerous, what treatment options and what prevention options are available.
Water in the legs - brief overview
To quickly classify the complaint picture, first a brief overview of the most important facts in advance:
- definition: Water in the legs is a colloquial term for an accumulation of fluid (edema) in the connective tissue of the legs, which is associated with a (visible) swelling.
- Symptoms: Leg swelling on one or both sides, which often goes back when the legs are raised; sometimes accompanying leg pain; Pressure (for example, with tight socks or with your finger) leaves a clear pressure point that only slowly disappears after the pressure has subsided.
- causes: For example cardiovascular diseases such as chronic venous insufficiency or heart failure, kidney diseases, liver diseases, thyroid diseases, side effects of medicinal products, lymphatic congestion, metabolic diseases (especially diabetes), hormonal disorders (e.g. due to thyroid diseases), protein deficiency, tumor diseases or pulmonary embolism.
- When is water in the legs dangerous?? Basically, edema on the legs should be clarified by a doctor, as numerous illnesses requiring treatment can be behind the symptoms. If you experience shortness of breath, chest pain, rapid heartbeat or circulatory problems, the emergency services should be contacted immediately, as life-threatening pulmonary embolism can trigger the symptoms.
- treatment: Lymphatic drainage for general relief of symptoms; otherwise based on the respective causes with manual therapy, compression stockings, medication and possibly also operations.
- Naturopathy and holistic medicine: Depending on the causes, for example rub-in with horse chestnut or stone clover, hydrotherapy, osteopathy and special movement exercises for the legs.
Symptoms of water in the legs
In addition to the aesthetic appearance, the swellings mentioned above usually represent a mechanical handicap. In addition, many sufferers complain of an uncomfortable feeling of swelling or dull pain in the leg. During or after exertion, but also after long periods of sitting and under heat, the symptoms can increase and in the evening many sufferers complain of swollen legs. Of course, the swelling often leads to a feeling of tension and a numbness in the legs can also occur.
It is suspected that, for aesthetic reasons, many sufferers have to struggle with severe (asymmetrical) swelling of the legs with many restrictions, which can put a psychological strain on them and, in serious cases, can also promote the occurrence of depression.
Water in the legs - causes
Water in the legs can have local causes, but can also be caused by diseases elsewhere in the body. Here it is important to carefully include the previous history and current situation in the investigation.
The fluid from our legs naturally has the greatest pressure and the longest distance to go back to the center of the body. An important mechanism for drainage is also the negative pressure that is generated by our breathing. Another is the activity of the muscles in the legs, which practically compress the vessels and thus press the liquid that is in them upwards (keyword muscle pump). The valves in the veins do the rest and prevent them from flowing back.
In this way, shallow breathing, varicose veins (where the venous valves cannot prevent it from flowing back) and decreased movement can all be factors that play a role in the water in the legs. From an anatomical point of view, there may also be constrictions in the course of the blood and lymphatic vessels, such as under the groin band, where tensions and unfavorable postures can make back and inflow more difficult.
Other possible triggers are:
- Cardiovascular diseases (e.g. cardiac insufficiency, chronic venous insufficiency or chronic venous insufficiency, chronic circulatory disorders)
- Varicose veins,
- Vascular occlusions,
- Diseases of the thyroid gland (e.g. hypothyroidism),
- Hormonal disorders and hormonal fluctuations,
- Metabolic disorders such as diabetes,
- Kidney diseases (e.g. inflammation of the kidneys),
- Liver diseases (liver cirrhosis, congestion liver, liver cancer),
- pulmonary embolism
- Food allergies,
- previous operations,
- Medications (such as diuretics, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, medicines containing cortisone, birth control pills),
First, a simple pressure test with the finger can be used to check whether the edema is really involved. If the dent diminishes slowly after the pressure, there is a suspicion of edema. However, the subsequent determination of the causes is often more difficult. Imaging methods such as ultrasound examinations and X-ray examinations with contrast media are often essential to determine, for example, vascular disorders or diseases of the liver and kidneys. Blood tests can also provide clues and also indicate hormonal problems or thyroid disorders. Depending on the suspicion, further examinations such as an allergy test or an EKG are also an option.
Water in the legs - treatment
In principle, the treatment should be geared to the respective causes of the edema and, in addition to manual therapies, medication, the use of compression stockings and surgery. In most cases, however, manual lymphatic drainage is initially prescribed to stimulate fluid drainage. In addition, various medicines can be used to promote the breakdown of the fluid accumulation. However, caution should be exercised when selecting them in order to avoid unnecessary risks. Surgery may be required for some causes of edema. This can already apply to varicose veins, but also for example to cancer, liver and kidney diseases
Naturopathy and holistic medicine
After serious illnesses have been ruled out, various measures are available to stimulate the outflow and eliminate the edema. Very easy to do yourself:
- the elevation of the legs,
- cold showering of the legs or cold castings (also Kneipp cures),
- Leg gymnastics with alternating tension and relaxation to activate the muscle pump,
- deep abdominal breathing and a strong alternation between inhalation and exhalation.
tip: Yoga and Feldenkrais exercises are worth trying, for example.
Furthermore, various naturopathic measures can be used to stimulate lymphatic drainage and fluid excretion, such as rubbing in with horse chestnut or stone clover or cold wraps. However, these should only be used after consultation with a doctor and they must be adjusted depending on the cause of the edema.
One example of a manual approach to treatment is osteopathy. Andrew Taylor Still, the founder of osteopathy, has always emphasized the importance of lymph and the flow of fluids 120 years ago. He indicated that all supplying nerves to the legs and the vascular sections should be examined for abnormal tension. So it is understandable why with water in the legs an osteopath also asks about back pain or abdominal pain, with which those affected do not initially establish a relationship. From the osteopathic point of view, all obstacles must be removed so that traffic jams are removed and all liquids can flow normally.
Other possible measures that can also contribute to the prevention of water in the legs are, for example, adjusting the diet with significantly reduced salt intake, regular sporting exercises (for example cycling or jogging) and special vein exercises. (tf, fp)
Author and source information
This text corresponds to the specifications of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.
Dipl. Geogr. Fabian Peters
- Professional Association of German Internals: Venous Thrombosis: Examinations & Diagnosis (available on September 18, 2019), Internists-in-the-Net
- Manuel Eugen Cornely: Lipedema and Lymphedema; in Advances in Practical Dermatology and Venereology, pages 255-263, 2003, springer.com
- S. M. Schellong, U. Wollina, L. Unger, J. Machetanz, C. Stelzner: The swollen leg; in Der Internist, November 2013, Volume 54, Issue 11, pages 1294-1303, springer.com