Helpful Tips for Reducing Swelling in Aging Adults

Do you provide care for a loved one who suffers from severe swelling? This common condition, known as edema, can be amplified in extreme heat or in cold temperatures. Edema refers to puffiness or swelling that is caused by excess fluid trapped in the body’s tissues. While this can be triggered by underlying disease like heart failure, arthritis and cirrhosis of the liver, among others, it can also be the result of muscle injury, standing for too long or consuming too much salt.

Short walks are not only peaceful, but can also help reduce swelling!

Short walks are not only peaceful, but can also help reduce swelling!

Many elderly people live with this uncomfortable condition, but the good news is that there are often simple changes you can encourage them to make in order to reduce or avoid swelling altogether. Some of these simple changes include: 

  • Taking short walks every hour as movement itself can help to push excess fluid back toward the heart

  • Limiting or reducing salt intake  

  • Drinking 8-10 glasses of water on a daily basis

  • Elevating legs and feet above heart level at night via a pillow, phone books or other support

  • Wearing compression stockings or socks once the swelling goes down in an effort to reduce any potential future swelling

  • Massaging the affected area in the direction of your heart with firm, but not painful, pressure

In addition to these tips, there are also certain exercises designed to help reduce swelling in aging adults, specifically in legs and ankles. Not only does swelling lead to discomfort, but it can also increase fall risk and make the lower body feel heavier. Similarly to elevation, exercises function to pump fluids back up the body toward the heart rather than to the extremities. However, before forging ahead and engaging in exercises, it’s always best to get a doctor’s approval first. Everyone’s body is different, which means that capabilities and limitations also vary from individual to individual. 

Here are descriptions of 3 simple home exercises that can be used in an effort to reduce swelling in legs and ankles:

Exercise #1: Ankle Pumps

  • The first step is to get horizontal and elevate your feet. Once set, move only your feet and first point your toes up toward your head and then down away from your head.

  • Aim to perform these repetitions in a series of 30 times at three separate intervals throughout the day. 

  • Modified Version #1: Perform the movement from a seated position, using a stool to elevate feet.

  • Modified Version #2: From a seated position, play some toe-tapping music and tap your toes in a repetitive motion to the beat.

Exercise #2: Glute Squeezes

  • From a seated or horizontal position, tighten your glutes as if you’re trying to pick something up with them.

  • Perform this motion slowly, trying to hold the squeeze for several seconds, then releasing and finally relaxing for a few seconds before repeating the exercise.

  • Remember to have your aging loved one breathe slowly and deeply, and refrain from holding his or her breath. Holding the breath can impact the blood flow.

  • The goal is to target 10 squeezes in three separate sets throughout the day.

Exercise #3: Knee to Chest Pulls

  • Lay down and practice bringing one knee as close to your chest as you can, while keeping the other leg flat on the ground or bent with your foot elevated to avoid pressure on your back.

  • Aim for 10 repetitions with one leg before switching to the other; try to repeat this exercise three times per day, depending on what your body can handle.

As stated, speaking with a doctor before introducing these exercises into your loved one’s daily routine is the best course of action. 

What types of exercises have you found to be helpful when it comes to reducing swelling in your aging loved one?

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