How to Treat Swelling

Three Parts:Treating Swelling Caused By InjuryTreating General SwellingKnowing When to Seek Medical Attention

Swelling can occur as the result of an injury, pregnancy, and other medical conditions. Left untreated, swelling can become frustrating and even painful. Elevating the swollen area, drinking plenty of fluids, and applying something cool to the area can reduce swelling. Read on to learn more about how to treat swelling.

Part 1
Treating Swelling Caused By Injury

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    Rest the swollen area. Whether your body is swollen from an injury or poor circulation, it is best to allow the swollen area a bit of time to rest. If you have a swollen foot or ankle, try not to use it in a strenuous way for at least a few days, until the swelling goes down.
    • If you have an injured foot, consider using crutches or a cane to take the pressure off the swollen area.
    • If you have a swollen arm caused by an injury, use the other arm to perform tasks, or ask for help from someone else.
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    Elevate the swollen body part. Any time you are sitting or lying down, prop up the swollen area on pillows, above the level of your heart.[1] This prevents blood from collecting in the swollen area and aids in circulation.
    • Use a sling to keep your arm elevated if necessary.
    • If the swelling is severe, make a point of sitting down and elevating the swollen body part for a few hours.
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    Apply a cold compact. High temperatures will make swelling worse, so do your swelling a favor by applying a cold compact. Avoid applying ice directly to the skin, but wrap an ice pack in a towel and apply to the swollen area. Do this for 15 minutes at a time, several times a day.[2]
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    Take medication. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are medications that decrease pain and swelling. The most common variants are ibuprofen (common brands include Motrin and Advil) and naproxen (Aleve). Note that acetaminophen (Tylenol) is not an NSAID and will not reduce swelling. Talk to your doctor about what the best medication for your situation may be.

Part 2
Treating General Swelling

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    Perform low-impact exercise. Although you do want to rest the swollen area, refraining from movement for extended periods reduces circulation and will eventually make your swelling worse. Get up and walk around occasionally during your regular work day, and include low impact exercise in your weekly routine. These may include yoga, swimming, and talking walks.
    • If you sit at a desk all day, try mixing it up by using a standing desk sometimes. If that's not an option, make a point of getting up to walk around the office every hour or so.
    • When you are sitting, change positions often and keep your feet slightly elevated whenever possible.
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    Minimize your sodium intake. High levels of sodium contribute to swelling, so avoid consuming foods with lots of sodium. In addition, drink lots of water to flush the salt from your system.[3]
    • To increase the cleansing property of your water, try adding cucumber and lemon slices - both natural anti-inflammatories.
    • Whenever possible, choose water over beverages that contain sodium. Even sweet beverages often have high levels of sodium.
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    Adjust your clothing. Tight clothing above your swollen areas can further restrict blood flow, which will worsen your swelling. Avoid wearing tight clothes (especially nylon stockings or garters), and try wearing supportive swelling stockings instead.[4]
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    Take magnesium supplements. If you suffer from a magnesium deficiency, your swelling may be worsened as a result. Purchase magnesium supplements from a local health foods store and take 250mg daily.
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    Soak the area in tonic water. The bubbles and quinine in tonic water can help to limit your swelling. Pour cold (or lukewarm, if you can’t handle cold) tonic water into a dish and soak your swollen areas for 15-20 minutes once daily.
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    Take an epsom salt bath. Epsom salts work as natural anti-inflammatories when dissolved in water. Add two tablespoons of plain epsom salt to your warm bathwater and allow it to dissolve. Do this daily for the best results.
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    Get a massage. Rubbing the swollen area reduces swelling and increases blood flow. Either get a professional massage or give yourself a rub-down on the swollen area of your body. Use grapefruit essential oil to help the process. If you give yourself a massage, focus the pushing movement upwards rather than downwards on the swollen area.[5]

Part 3
Knowing When to Seek Medical Attention

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    See a doctor if you have chronic swelling. If using the above methods doesn't reduce your swelling within a few days, see a doctor to determine whether an underlying problem may be causing your body to swell.
    • Severe swelling during pregnancy may be a sign of pre-eclampsia, a serious condition that causes high blood pressure along with swelling.[6]
    • Certain medications can cause the body to swell up. Anti-depressants, hormone treatments, and blood pressure medication may lead to swelling.[7]
    • Heart failure, kidney failure, and liver failure cause fluid to collect in the body and lead to swelling.[8]
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    Call your doctor immediately if you have other serious symptoms. Swelling in conjunction with other symptoms could mean you are experiencing heart, kidney or liver problems, and you'll need to seek medical attention right away. See a doctor if you have any of the following symptoms:
    • You experience chest pain.[9]
    • You have shortness of breath.
    • You are pregnant and have a sudden increase in swelling.
    • You have a fever.
    • You have diagnosed heart or liver problems and notice swelling.
    • Your swollen body part is warm to the touch.


  • Try multiple methods of reducing swelling at a time, as they can be especially beneficial when combined together.
  • Being overweight can significantly contribute to bad swelling. If you are overweight and experience poor circulation and swelling as a result, look into means of losing a bit of weight and getting healthier.


  • Any unexplained swelling on your body without cause needs to be seen by a doctor.
  • If you have swelling anywhere on your face (mouth, eyes, etc.), seek immediate medical assistance.
  • If swelling is very severe or you think you have a broken bone, please seek a doctor as soon as possible.

Article Info

Categories: First Aid and Emergencies | Back and Joint Care