Whether it is from water retention, a serious injury, or a minor scrape, we all deal with swelling from time to time. But swelling, especially prolonged swelling, can be painful, unsightly, and otherwise difficult to deal with.
Here are different ways to reduce different types of swelling that you may encounter from time to time.
Exercise can help reduce swelling in the legs:
If you notice swelling that is unconnected to an injury, many times, this swelling is in the legs. However, if a reduced sodium diet does not help this issue, there are some exercises you can do to help ease the swelling. These exercises work because, by stimulating the tissue, they cause a redistribution of fluid in the tissue. Most leg swelling is caused when fluid pools in tissues, and exercise, even light exercise, can help reduce this effect.
Low sodium diets can help:
Sometimes, swelling is caused due to an injury, but those who are faced with swelling that seems to not have a cause may become especially confused. Many of us will experience some sort of swelling that seems unconnected to an injury. Eating a diet high in salt can cause your body to retain water, which can also lead to swelling. An occasional high-salt meal likely will not lead to this, but a diet that is chronically high in salt may cause issues. Vanderbilt University offers tips and advice on reducing salt consumption if you notice swelling. The good thing about this cause is that it’s easy to reverse. If your high-sodium diet causes swelling, you will likely reverse the swelling after a time of eating lower sodium.
Applying ice to a newly injured area:
Part of the reason that new injuries tend to become hot and red is the fact that blood rushes to the area. This blood rush causes the swelling you see. In order to speed healing and reduce swelling, many doctors recommend applying ice immediately. This causes constriction in the blood vessels moving into the injured area, which in turn curbs the swelling. Icing an also help to reduce the pain associated with new injuries.
Elevating the injured area:
Particularly for new injuries, elevation is used as part of the RICE (rest, ice, compression, elevation) method of caring for a new injury. Elevation involves getting the injured area lifted above the heart, if at all possible. When a limb is above the heart, this encourages blood to flow away from the injury, toward the heart. If you cannot elevate the injury above the heart, most experts advise at least keeping the injury parallel to the ground. Keeping blood away from the injury helps to decrease the total fluid volume moving into it, thus reducing swelling.
Rest the area:
It may sound like it contradicts some of the other methods listed, like exercise, but there are many types of swelling. If you have fluid pooling in your legs with no pain, exercise makes sense as a way to redistribute that fluid. On the other hand, if you’ve just broken a tibia and have swelling from that, exercising the leg makes little sense. Depending on your injury type, any sort of displacement or aggravation of the injury may cause more irritation of the tissue, and therefore, more swelling. If you aren’t sure which is best, seeing a doctor is, of course, a smart option. If you cannot get to a doctor immediately, a good rule of thumb is to avoid anything that causes pain. While it may be tempting to push through an injury, this often leads to a more severe injury with more pain and a longer healing time. In general, erring on the side of rest will be better for your injury.
Alternate hot and cold compresses:
This is known as “contrast therapy,” as it generally involves alternating applying heat and applying cold to an injury. Contrast therapy is generally advised for injuries as opposed to general swelling. Nobody is entirely sure as to why it works, but it may be because it allows for more total time applying ice. Very cold ice is necessary for the most swelling reduction, but a cold pack may cause discomfort at the level of the skin. Alternating this with heat immersion may give the skin a respite, thus allowing for greater total exposure to cold.
The next time you experience swelling, whether it’s from an injury or something else, be