Swelling—or technically, edema, the medical term for swelling due to fluid accumulation—can wind up in any body parts, but it’s often most notable in the legs or feet. Swollen feet among young and middle-aged men aren’t usually a cause for concern, explains Steven Lamm, M.D., medical director of the NYU Preston Robert Tisch Center for Men’s Health. But it’s worth knowing what usually makes feet swell so you know if what’s happening is something you need to talk to a doc about, or whether it’s fine to just bring your feet down to size yourself.
1) You’re On a Long Flight or Road Trip
While sitting for an extended period of time, “your veins aren’t as effective at circulating blood back to the heart,” Dr. Lamm says. Your upright, seated position has two strikes against you: “it reduces the muscular contraction that helps bring blood back to the heart, and you are compressing the veins in your legs which reduces blood flow.”
To prevent or limit swelling next time, it’s essential to get up, stretch, and move. On long-haul flights, walk around every hour or two. “Compression socks can also help reduce swelling,” Dr. Lamm says; they can keep fluid from building up in the legs. He also recommends a supplement called pycnogenol; it’s actually an extract from pine bark that can reduce swelling, according to research on people who took flights of at least 7 hours.
2) You’re Not Getting Enough Exercise
Almost all of us can benefit by moving more often. More sessions in the gym certainly count, but so does adding in more movement throughout the day. A sedentary lifestyle has many negative effects, including taking a toll on blood circulation, causing your feet to swell.
To reduce the swelling, take regular walking or stretching breaks throughout the day, suggests Alex McDonald, MD, CAQSM, a family physician in San Bernardino, California. Try these stretches, especially after sitting all day.
3) You Eat Too Much Salt
Indulging in salty meals or adding too much of it to your food can cause water retention, which can lead to swollen legs, ankles and feet, explains Dr. Lamm. “Just like how salty foods can cause us to feel bloated around our abdomen, reducing daily salt intake can help cut down on lower leg swelling,” says Lamm.
4) You Sprained Your Ankle
Perhaps the most painful reason on this list is that you sprained your ankle. The rapid swelling that comes after you twist your ankle is your body’s way of responding to injury.
Overuse or incorrect training can also lead to swollen ankles, says Clifford L. Jeng, MD, medical director of The Institute for Foot and Ankle Reconstruction at Mercy Medical Center, who suggests resting, icing, and going to a physical therapist or athletic trainer to rehab that injury.
5) You’re Taking A New Medication
A new medication — including some high blood pressure medications and over-the-counter pain medications — can increase the risk of swelling. But it’s “highly individual,” says Dr. McDonald.
If the swelling doesn’t improve after several days, is painful, or localized in one leg, Dr. Lamm suggests talking to your physician because it could indicate a larger health issue. Unexplained prolonged swelling or puffiness on just one side can be a sign of heart or kidney failure. Don’t freak out if you’re young—“swollen feet are typically not serious,” Dr. Lamm says—but do mention persistent, unexplained swelling to your doctor.