Exercises for Edema of the Lower Extremities
By Mary Ann Wilson, RN
The following exercises may be done sitting in a chair with the foot raised slightly off the floor, or while lying down. They will help the muscles to pump fluid back toward the heart in any position, but they are the most beneficial when the leg is elevated above the heart, so lie down when you can to do them, elevating your leg on several pillows.
1) Point your toe down then pull your toes up toward your knee. Be sure to move your ankle joint through its complete range of motion. The movement should be slow and deliberate. Repeat 10 times.
2) Turn your foot in, then out to the side. Be sure you are moving at the ankle joint, not rotating the whole leg, to achieve maximum benefit. As above, move your ankle through the full range of motion. Repeat 10 times. (If you are sitting for this exercise, you may prefer to rest your heel on the floor.)
3) Make a large circle with your ankle, clockwise 10 times, then counter- clockwise 10 times. Move slowly enough to be sure you are moving through the complete range of motion. Think of your toes moving around the face of a clock and tracing the numbers.
4) These exercises may get boring, so now move your ankle as though you are writing the alphabet with your toes. That adds a little excitement to your life!
The above exercises should be done frequently throughout the day, even hourly while you are awake, or you can choose just one of them to do each hour. Frequent, short bouts of exercise can help your edema more than infrequent exercise.
To assist further with reduction in your lower extremity edema, you may wish to elevate your leg at night as well as during day-time rest periods. Slight elevation of the foot of your bed on blocks can also facilitate fluid return.
Wearing support hose or compression stockings can also help, especially if you are standing on your feet for a great deal of time each day. The gentle pressure they offer counteracts the effect of gravity and facilitates the movement of fluid upward through your veins.