Swollen ankles after a day of hiking can be a cause for concern for many hikers. The swelling, also known as edema, can be caused by a variety of factors such as injury, poor circulation, or a medical condition. In this article, we will explore all the potential causes of swollen ankles after hiking and discuss ways to prevent and treat the condition.
I will also provide tips for hikers to help them identify and manage the symptoms of swollen ankles. Whether you’re a seasoned hiker or just starting out, it’s important to understand the potential risks and how to stay safe on the trails.
What is Swelling of the Ankles & Why Does It Occur After Hiking?
Swelling of the ankles, also known as edema, is the accumulation of fluid in the lower legs and feet. This can cause the ankles and feet to feel swollen, tight, and heavy. After hiking, swelling of the ankles may occur due to a number of reasons, including:
- Prolonged standing or walking: When you are hiking, you are doing a lot of walking, and this can put a lot of pressure on your legs and feet. This pressure can cause fluid to build up in the lower legs and feet, leading to swelling.
- Injuries: Hiking can be physically demanding, and accidents or injuries can occur while on a hike. These injuries can cause swelling in the affected area.
- Varicose Veins: Varicose veins are swollen and enlarged veins that are often visible under the skin. Hiking can worsen varicose veins, as physical activity can put pressure on the legs and exacerbate the condition.
- Poor circulation: Hiking at high altitudes can cause poor circulation, leading to swelling in the ankles and feet. When you are at high altitudes, the air is thinner, which means that there is less oxygen in the air. This can cause the blood vessels to constrict, leading to poor circulation and swelling.
- Dehydration: Hiking in hot weather or not drinking enough water can cause dehydration, which can contribute to swelling of the ankles. When you are dehydrated, your body can’t function as well, and this can cause fluids to build up in the legs and feet.
It’s important to keep in mind that these are just general guidelines, and it’s always best to consult with a healthcare professional if you experience persistent or severe swelling of the ankles. They can check for any underlying medical conditions and recommend appropriate treatment options.
How to Reduce Swelling and Pain from Swollen Ankles Post-Hike
Here are some tips for reducing swelling and pain from swollen ankles post-hike:
1. Elevate the legs
Elevating the legs above the level of the heart can help to reduce swelling by allowing gravity to drain the fluid away from the legs. This can be done by lying down and propping your feet up on pillows, or by sitting in a recliner with your feet up. It’s important to elevate the legs for at least 20 minutes, several times a day.
Applying an ice pack to the swollen area can help to reduce inflammation and pain. The cold from the ice pack helps to constrict the blood vessels and reduce blood flow to the area, which can reduce swelling. Wrap a few ice cubes in a towel and apply to the swollen area for 15-20 minutes at a time. It’s important to avoid applying ice directly to the skin and to wrap it in a towel or cloth to avoid frostbite.
Wearing compression socks or stockings can help to reduce swelling by providing support to the legs and promoting circulation. Compression stockings are specially designed to apply pressure to the legs, which can help to prevent fluid from building up in the legs and feet. They can be worn during the day or overnight to help reduce swelling.
Gently massaging the swollen area can help to increase circulation and reduce swelling. This can be done by using a soft brush or your hands to massage the area in a circular motion. Massaging the legs can help to move the fluids out of the legs and back into the bloodstream, which can reduce swelling.
5. Stay hydrated
Make sure to drink plenty of water before, during, and after your hike to help prevent dehydration, which can contribute to swelling. When you are dehydrated, your body can’t function as well, and this can cause fluids to build up in the legs and feet. Aim for at least eight glasses of water a day, or more if you are sweating a lot or hiking in hot weather.
After a hike, rest your legs as much as possible to help reduce swelling and pain. This means avoiding standing or sitting for long periods of time and taking a break if you need to.
7. Over-the-counter pain relievers
You can take over-the-counter pain relievers such as ibuprofen or naproxen to help reduce pain and inflammation. These medications work by blocking the production of certain chemicals in the body that contribute to pain and inflammation.
8. Avoid sitting or standing for long periods
When you are resting, avoid sitting or standing for long periods of time to reduce the pressure on your legs and feet. This will help to reduce the amount of pressure on the legs and will help to reduce swelling and pain.
It’s also important to consult with your healthcare professional if you experience persistent or severe swelling of the ankles. They can check for any underlying medical conditions and recommend appropriate treatment options.
Related: Does Hiking Cause Foot and Ankle Pain During Pregnancy?
5 Best Practices to Prevent Swollen Ankles Pre-Hike
Here are five best practices to prevent swollen ankles before a hike:
1. Warm up before hiking
It’s important to warm up your muscles before starting a hike. This can include light stretching, walking or jogging in place, or doing a few squats or lunges. This will help to increase blood flow and prepare your body for physical activity. A proper warm-up will increase the heart rate and blood flow to the muscles, which will help to reduce the risk of injury and swelling. It will also help to increase flexibility, which can help to reduce the risk of strain or injury while hiking.
2. Wear appropriate footwear
Wearing the right type of hiking boots or shoes can help to reduce the risk of injury and swelling. Make sure that your shoes fit well and have good support, and that they are broken in before going on a hike. Hiking boots or shoes should be comfortable and provide good support to the foot, especially around the ankle, heel, and arch. They should also have a good grip, so you can have better traction and avoid slips.
3. Stay hydrated
Make sure to drink plenty of water before, during, and after your hike to help prevent dehydration, which can contribute to swelling. Aim for at least eight glasses of water a day, or more if you are sweating a lot or hiking in hot weather. When you are dehydrated, your body can’t function as well, and this can cause fluids to build up in the legs and feet. It can also lead to fatigue, dizziness, and headaches.
4. Take breaks
It’s important to take breaks throughout the hike, especially if you feel tired or if your legs and feet are starting to feel swollen. This will help to reduce the pressure on your legs and allow your body to recover. It’s also important to take breaks to rest, stretch, and rehydrate during the hike. This will help to prevent fatigue and ensure that you are able to continue hiking safely.
5. Stretch after hiking
After the hike, take a few minutes to stretch your muscles. This will help to reduce any soreness or stiffness and promote circulation in the legs and feet. Stretching can also help to prevent muscle soreness and stiffness, which can occur after a hike. It can also help to improve flexibility, which can reduce the risk of injury and help to prevent swelling of the ankles.
Once again, it’s always best to consult with a healthcare professional if you have any concerns or have a history of swollen ankles or other medical conditions. They can give you personalized advice and recommendations to help prevent swollen ankles pre-hike.