Ankle and foot surgery usually involves an incision to the surgical site. Any type of wound can lead to inflammation, causing the area to swell. While fluid buildup is normal and results from white blood cells rushing to the area to heal it, you can take steps to prevent more swelling. Too much inflammation is counterproductive, can cause extra pain and decreases your range of motion.

Continue reading to find out more reasons to ease inflammation after surgery and discover an array of ways to reduce swelling in your foot and ankle.

Elderly woman bare swollen feet on grass with walker

Why Is It Important To Decrease Swelling After Surgery?

The first few weeks after surgery are critical for recovery, and you should carefully follow your treatment provider’s instructions to minimize the risk of further injury. Taking steps to reduce inflammation can speed up recovery of the affected area and give your body the boost it needs to avoid complications, such as:

  • Infection
  • Edema
  • Deep vein thrombosis
  • Blood clots

While the risks associated with surgery to your feet are generally low, complications such as a blood clot can lead to serious problems. Follow the advice below to reduce ankle and foot swelling, but always speak to your health care practitioner before attempting anything not included in your recovery plan.

Ways To Reduce Fluid Buildup in a Swollen Foot

Below are the best ways to slow or stop swelling for patients who’ve recently undergone surgery to their feet or ankles.

Get Plenty of Rest To Promote Healing After Foot or Ankle Surgery

One of the most effective ways to reduce swelling is to ensure you get enough rest. A doctor or nurse will let you know how long you need to avoid weight-bearing altogether. However, it’s equally important that you get enough sleep every night. You should aim for at least eight hours of sleep per night and take naps whenever you feel the urge. The body does most of its healing during sleep, particularly the deep sleep phase of your sleep cycle.

Keep Your Foot Elevated Above Heart Level

Whenever you’re seated or lying down, you should aim to elevate your lower leg above your heart. If you don’t keep your affected limb raised, gravity causes fluid to collect in the foot, which can be painful and slow healing. Elevation can also help prevent blood clots and edema.

Apply an Ice Pack at Regular Intervals

Cold therapy with ice packs helps restrict excessive blood flow by constricting the blood vessels leading from your legs to your feet, which in turn brings swelling down. Always wrap cold items in a towel or tissue, and only maintain contact between the compress and your body for 20 to 30 minutes at a time. 

Apply cold compresses three to four times a day to reduce swelling, and leave at least an hour between cold therapy sessions to prevent skin damage. Avoid using heat therapy on your feet and ankles as it can increase inflammation.

Cold therapy is most effective in treating an injury that’s less than a few days old.

Don’t Resume Intense Exercise Involving the Foot and Ankle Until Given the All-Clear

If you’re someone who does a lot of intense exercises involving your legs, knee joints, feet or ankles, be sure to stop for as long as the doctor recommends. Weight-bearing exercise and household chores are also out of the question during early recovery, so be sure to follow doctors’ orders and only conduct approved exercises.

Gently Do Ankle Pumps and Circles If Your Doctor Permits

Usually, people with an injury to the knee, foot, ankle or legs are encouraged to do light exercises to promote blood flow and avoid being fully sedentary. Ankle pumps and circles are often recommended, and you can conduct these exercises while lying down.

First, lie on your back and ensure your feet and legs are elevated. One rep involves flexing your feet towards your heart as far as possible, then pointing them away from your body as far as possible. Repeat this 20 times. Next, rotate each ankle by drawing a circle with your toes, and repeat this exercise 20 times too. If you experience any pain, conduct the exercises very slowly and only do as many as you can, in view of working up to 20.

Use Compression Socks for Severe Swelling

If your doctor doesn’t tell you to wear a compression bandage after surgery, be sure to check if it’s okay to do so. For people who don’t have compression socks, static bandages or elastic bandages are available from medical supply stores. They use moderate pressure to restrict blood flow and keep swelling down. Never use a compression device that’s too tight.

Take Prescribed Medications for Foot Swelling According to Doctor’s Instructions

Doctors often prescribe anti-inflammatory medications and pain medications following foot surgery, and some are available over the counter. Always let your doctor or pharmacist know of any other medications you’re taking to avoid unfavorable interactions.

Wear Loose-Fitting Clothing Where Foot, Ankle or Leg Swelling Is Present

Avoid wearing tight socks, jeans or trousers when recovering from foot surgery. This helps encourage healthy blood flow and lowers the risk of infection. Compression garments are the exceptions to this rule.

Avoid Smoking and Drinking Alcohol After Ankle or Foot Surgery

Alcohol and smoking affect circulation and can slow down the healing process. If possible, avoid engaging in these behaviors to give yourself the best chance of a speedy recovery.

When To Seek Medical Attention

There are some occasions when you might require medical attention after foot surgery. The steps to take are outlined below.

Call 911 If

  • You experience chest pain
  • You’re short of breath
  • You suspect you have a blood clot

See a Foot Doctor If

  • Your dressing, cast or splint feels wet
  • Your calf is tender, painful or warm to the touch
  • Swelling doesn’t gradually decrease when you elevate it
  • Pain levels increase
  • You get a fever that exceeds 101 or start getting chills
  • The incision opens
  • There’s redness or drainage around the incision
  • Your nail beds turn purplish
  • Your toes tingle, turn blue or go numb

Contact Us for a Diagnosis of Your Symptoms

If you need more advice on how to reduce swelling in the feet or ankles or require a diagnosis, get in touch with Align Foot and Ankle today.