Whether it's from water retention, a serious injury, or a minor scrape, we all deal with swelling from time to time. But swelling, especially prolonged swelling, can be painful, unsightly, and otherwise difficult to deal with.
In the article below, you'll discover different ways to reduce different types of swelling that you may encounter from time to time.
1. Low sodium diets can help
Sometimes, swelling is caused due to an injury, but those who are faced with swelling that seems to not have a cause may become especially confused. Many of us will experience some sort of swelling that seems unconnected to an injury. Eating a diet high in salt can cause your body to retain water, which can also lead to swelling.
An occasional high-salt meal likely will not lead to this, but a diet that is chronically high in salt may cause issues. Vanderbilt University offers tips and advice on reducing salt consumption if you notice swelling. The good thing about this cause is that it's easy to reverse. If your high-sodium diet causes swelling, you will likely reverse the swelling after a time of eating lower sodium.
2. Exercise can help reduce swelling in the legs
If you notice swelling that is unconnected to an injury, many times, this swelling is in the legs. However, if a reduced sodium diet does not help this issue, there are some exercises you can do to help ease the swelling.
These exercises work because, by stimulating the tissue, they cause a redistribution of fluid in the tissue. Most leg swelling is caused when fluid pools in tissues, and exercise, even light exercise, can help reduce this effect.
3. Antibiotic ointment applied to cuts and scrapes may help
We all deal with scrapes and cuts from time to time. Most of these go away on their own, but even a relatively small scrape or cut can become painful and swollen.
In order to reduce this effect, you need to be sure to clean out the wound before treating it. After this, applying antibiotic ointment can help keep the surface moist. It also can help to reduce bacterial growth, thus making your recovery less painful and hopefully faster.
4. Applying ice to a newly injured area
Part of the reason that new injuries tend to become hot and red is the fact that blood rushes to the area. This blood rush causes the swelling you see.
In order to speed healing and reduce swelling, many doctors recommend applying ice immediately. This causes constriction in the blood vessels moving into the injured area, which in turn curbs the swelling. Icing an also help to reduce the pain associated with new injuries.
5. Elevating the injured area
Particularly for new injuries, elevation is used as part of the RICE (rest, ice, compression, elevation) method of caring for a new injury. Elevation involves getting the injured area lifted above the heart, if at all possible. When a limb is above the heart, this encourages blood to flow away from the injury, toward the heart.
If you cannot elevate the injury above the heart, most experts advise at least keeping the injury parallel to the ground. Keeping blood away from the injury helps to decrease the total fluid volume moving into it, thus reducing swelling.
6. Rest the area
Rest is another vital part of the RICE model. It may sound like it contradicts some of the other methods listed, like exercise, but there are many types of swelling. If you have fluid pooling in your legs with no pain, exercise makes sense as a way to redistribute that fluid.
On the other hand, if you've just broken a tibia and have swelling from that, exercising the leg makes little sense. Depending on your injury type, any sort of displacement or aggravation of the injury may cause more irritation of the tissue, and therefore, more swelling.
If you aren't sure which is best, seeing a doctor is, of course, a smart option. If you cannot get to a doctor immediately, a good rule of thumb is to avoid anything that causes pain. While it may be tempting to push through an injury, this often leads to a more severe injury with more pain and a longer healing time. In general, erring on the side of rest will be better for your injury.
7. Use compression
This method of reducing swelling may sound counterintuitive at first, because placing pressure on a swollen area may seem like it'll just be more painful. However, compression is part of the RICE model of dealing with swelling. Compressing the area can help to reduce further swelling. If you choose to use compression, be mindful that wrapping too tightly can cause problems.
If your injury is too tightly wrapped, you may experience tingling or numbness. If this happens, loosen the bandage a bit. While ace bandages are good as a first wrap, injuries that experience long term swelling may be more conveniently treated with a compression sleeve or other easy-on device. You can purchase these at sporting goods stores or online, and they are generally easier to keep in place than wraps or bandages are.
8. Supplement with bromelain
This enzyme may sound a bit foreign, but it's actually derived from the stem of the pineapple. It is recommended as an anti-inflammatory by surgeon Dr. Neal Blitz. Blitz notes that you can get bromelain from the fruit of the pineapple itself (assuming you like the tough (but sweet!) stem, or you can get it from dietary supplements.
As with all supplements, it's a good idea to ask your doctor what from and dosage is right for you. Blitz also cautions that this should not be taken prior to surgery, as it may cause excessive bleeding. Before taking this supplement, be sure to talk to your doctor to make sure you are taking it safely.
9. Supplement with quercetin
Quercetin, a flavanoid that may be derived from leafy greens, apples, capers, red onions, and citrus fruits, may also help to reduce swelling throughout the body. Like bromelain, quercetin is also recommended by Dr. Neal Blitz. Quercetin is sometimes sold as an extract in combination with bromelain, and it may be taken to reduce swelling.
If non-acute swelling is still an issue for you, even when no injury is present, it may be worthwhile to supplement your diet with additional plants that contain this flavanoid. As with bromelain, be sure to consult your doctor before taking this supplement.
10. Drink apple cider vinegar
This may sound surprising, especially if you remember the press about the "apple cider vinegar diet" from a few years ago. However, apple cider vinegar has known anti-inflammatory properties, which can help reduce swelling in the body.
Additionally, dehydration and also electrolyte depletion can cause swelling. Apple cider vinegar is surprisingly full of potassium, an essential electrolyte that is harder to get in the diet than the ubiquitous sodium. You may dislike the taste of vinegar, but taking this supplement doesn't have to disrupt you diet. All you need to do is add a tablespoon or so to a glass of water and drink it.
11. Take an epsom salt soak
Sometimes, even if you've reduced your sodium intake, gotten hydrated, and made sure you're supplementing with electrolytes, you'll still find that you're retaining water. This can cause a general swelling in the body, which may look unsightly and cause you to feel heavy.
If you're having trouble getting rid of this swelling, an epsom salt soak may help. Epsom salts have been used for centuries to draw out both water and toxins from the body. Moreover, they are extraordinarily inexpensive and may be bought at almost any grocery store. If you regularly bathe in epsom salts, you will likely see a dramatic reduction in swelling.
12. Drink dandelion tea
This may sound like an unusual remedy, as many of us are used to dandelions being the fuzzy yellow flowers that are generally regarded as weeds. However, dandelion has a couple of benefits. We noted earlier that fluid retention may cause swelling, but that dehydration and electrolyte depletion may encourage fluid retention.
Dandelion tea has beneficial effects for both. It is a natural diuretic, meaning it can help decrease fluid retention, but it also is very high in potassium, meaning that it can help to keep your electrolytes in balance. Potassium is an electrolyte that is harder to find in the diet than sodium is, as sodium is found in virtually all processed foods.
This may not be a common tea, depending on where you live, but it can be purchased at health food stores or online. You can even make it yourself if you're feeling adventurous!
13. Alternate hot and cold compresses
This is known as "contrast therapy," as it generally involves alternating applying heat and applying cold to an injury. Contrast therapy is generally advised for injuries as opposed to general swelling. Nobody is entirely sure as to why it works, but it may be because it allows for more total time applying ice.
Very cold ice is necessary for the most swelling reduction, but a cold pack may cause discomfort at the level of the skin. Alternating this with heat immersion may give the skin a respite, thus allowing for greater total exposure to cold.
14. Apply mustard oil to the affected areas
This swelling remedy may sound unusual, but it actually works. While mustard is best known as a condiment, mustard oil can help restore circulation. A lot of swelling is actually due to a lack of circulation. Warm mustard oil can help restore circulation, thus reducing swelling.
In order to reap the full benefits of this unusual choice, warm up some mustard oil and massage it into the swollen areas for five to seven minutes. Shortly afterwards, you should notice at least some reduction of swelling. You can purchase mustard oil at health food stores or online, depending on where you live.
While none of us ever wants to experience swelling, it's good to have some remedies at the ready for when it strikes. Having a list of readily available ways to treat swelling is important, because we all experience different kinds of swelling and it may take a few tries to find something that really works for you.
The next time you experience swelling, whether it's from an injury or something else, be sure to consult this list. Don't forget to like and share! Did we miss anything? Do you have a favorite swelling remedy that isn't on the list? Please tell us in the comments!