Swollen feet and hands – Peripheral Edema and long-term sitting issues

Swolen feet

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As you might or might not know, swollen feet, hands, legs, joints, etc. are symptoms of something we call Peripheral Edema. It can happen due to a number of reasons, some being pregnancy, a side-effect of some medication, a problem with the lymphatic system, an issue with your venous circulation system, or simply come from an underlying disease.

However, it is not always coming from one of those reasons, and from some of them, there is very reasonable explanation – long-term sitting and inactivity. Of course, you can treat swollen hands and legs with standard medication prescribed by your doctor, but what about preventing it? Well, that is why we have are here.

How does our body work?

Swollen hands

Our body has a certain way of functioning which is easily disrupted if we don’t care for it enough. The way the entire venous and lymphatic circulation system works, is that it needs space and activity to operate. Let me explain.

The general idea is – blood flows through veins and arteries (that is how our body gets food), gets all the good and bad things that the body can feed it, and it then goes through to the kidneys and the liver, and gets processed, that’s when a detox process occurs.

The other part of that entire system are muscles and the way they contract to help the entire circular system work properly. Once the muscles contract, liquids and blood are “squeezed” away from the cells and the places where it had accumulated due to gravity. Now, the blood and other fluids flow properly through the body as there are no accumulated fluids in the hands and feet, which are the farthest parts of the body.

That system, along with the lymphatic system (which is used to feed the body and build up immunity), works perfectly and drains excess fluids when the organs that are in charge of it work properly. However, if we are not active, and let the liquids build up by sitting for a long period during the day, every day, the peripheral body parts (the hands and feet) slowly become the main points of liquid collection.

Peripheral Edema and long-term sitting

I hope this is now becoming more clear, and that you can probably begin to understand how things like swollen feet and swollen hands are a thing. However, both legs and feet have their own way of being “hurt”, let’s put it that way, and this is how.

Swollen feet and ankles

Swollen feet

When it comes to swollen legs, feet an ankles, the main issue here is – gravity. While sitting, and standing, of course, gravity tends to pull all fluids down. if the only muscle in the body working on helping that fluid circulate is heart, then we have a problem such as this.

When you sit, you reduce the space that the liquids have to move throughout the body back to the heart to complete the entire process of detox and drainage. Your legs are bent, you are putting pressure on the circulatory system not allowing the liquids to flow, and your muscles are not contracting for a very long period of time, therefore – the liquids are building up constantly.

Think of that entire system as if it was a garden hose – once you put pressure somewhere, the opening becomes smaller and less water flows through.

You may also experience numbness in your legs at some point, like when sitting on the loo for a long time. At that point, your nerves have been cut off from the “food” that they need and are not able to help the body the way they should, thus losing their function slowly while the feeling intensifies. Blood flow stops at that point and no liquid exchange and detox is happening in the lower part of the body.

Swollen hands

The hands are not much different form the legs when it comes to the swelling, they are a peripheral part of the body and thus are at the point where the circulation is the weakest. The hands have very little muscle in them, and are full of bones, making it even harder to drain the liquids from them.

Of course, swollen hands can be coming from some medical conditions such as a kidney, thyroid or liver disease. It can also come from pregnancy with women, as in pregnancy, you will retain water much more than usual. There are also side effects from medication, but that is another story.

Right now, if we rule out all those other possibilities, the hands depend mostly on:

-10% the activity of the muscles in our hands
-20% how strong and healthy our heart is to pump the blood to the hands
-20% our blood stream is clear of any clogs

Now, this is just 50% you would say? Yes, we know, but the point is to understand that the body cannot fight this alone, it needs help from us.

The other 50% that the hands need is in the activity and the lifestyle of the person. For a start, activity will increase the circulation and decrease the chance of liquids building up in the hands, and a healthier diet will not retain water as much. What is this all about?

Preventing Peripheral Edema caused by long-term sitting

Swollen feet

Preventing issues like the ones we have talked about is not an easy task. Why? Because the main solution is – changing our habits!

Oh yes, this horrible short sentence that scares us all and tortures us throughout the day knowing that we will actually have to do something. No more of that standing in one spot, looking at our phone while waiting for the microwave, sitting while watching TV, and sleeping to avoid obligations – we have get out there and start changing things.

Exercise and activity change everything

Telling someone that they need to exercise is simple, just pick anything, right? In this case, we have a system that will bring results and that has a reason why it should be done like that.

When it comes to exercises, the type which are recommended are the static exercises. This kind of muscle contraction is most beneficial to your lymphatic drainage system and the blood flow of your body as it makes the body behave as it should normally.

The exercises are done in this way: contract muscles 6 seconds, release and wait 12 seconds. Why? It take approximately 12 seconds for the cells to fill up with lymph, after that, you will contract muscles and squeeze the lymph from them, making space for new one to come, and to circulate the body the way it should.

Apart from that, taking walks everyday will help significantly as it will increase the blood flow and help your heart even better while trying to maintain the entire system.

Changing the diet

A bad diet makes the liquids build up faster, the main culprit is – salt.

By reducing the intake of salt, you will keep less water inside your body as salt is responsible for keeping it in, it’s simply how it works. Of course, we don’t have to mention drinking less alcohol, as alcohol has nearly the same effect as salt.

The last one is drinking more water daily. Eating more or less salt – it doesn’t matter, water is going to make the lymph break and flow better through your body to all the places it needs to be, and not just stand in one and build up.

Resting on your back

The last thing that we could recommend is something that might sound strange now, but please let us explain further.

If by some chance you’re working from home, you have a great starting point. During work, it is recommended that you take breaks and lay on your back in front of a wall and raise your legs straight up against it. That way, the fluids that have accumulated in your legs for some time will be able to flow back and not sit in one place, waiting to be a burden on the body.

If, however, you cannot do this from time to time, do it when you get back from work. It will also be beneficial for your back, to straighten it a little bit from all that bending forward at work.

To conclude this

Swollen hands, swollen feet and ankles, and peripheral edema in general, is something that, when it is not coming from a condition that a person has, relatively easy to treat.

Our best advice is to simply get out of the chair as much as you can – and move. This is the best way to get rid of those swollen legs that don’t look nice in a bathing suit, or swollen hands that can even hurt after some time of neglecting when doing even the basic chores.

Changing the diet is the hardest part, we know, but this after some time, you will learn some tips and tricks on how to help your body withstand the full force of that bag of chips looking at you in the supermarket.

Best of luck!

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Most common reasons for visiting a Physio

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