Swollen, sore feet aren’t unusual, particularly if you’ve had a long, busy day of walking or standing. What if the swelling is mainly on the top of your foot? There are plenty of reasons why this could happen.
It could be a sign of a relatively minor issue – like standing for long periods, or if you’ve recently been on a long flight. Or it could be an indication of a more serious health issue. Here’s some information on the causes and treatments for swelling on the top of the foot:
If you have recently been on an airplane and experienced foot swelling, you probably don’t need to be that concerned. The reason it happens is that blood pools in the veins of your legs. Crossing your legs for long periods of time can also lead to swelling, due to a buildup of fluid.
There are a few things you can do to reduce the chances that your feet will swell the next time you’re on a plane.
- Stay away from salt in the days leading up to the flight. Salt can cause you to retain fluids and be more susceptible to swelling.
- Get up and walk during the flight, when you can.
- While sitting, flex your feet as often as possible.
- Be sure to get enough fluids, so you don’t become dehydrated.2
If the swelling hasn’t gone down after you’ve been on the ground a few hours, that could be a sign of a potentially serious problem called deep vein thrombosis (DVT). This is a blood clot that has formed in a leg vein. If you only have swelling in one foot and you’re experiencing pain, DVT could be the cause. Get to a doctor as soon as you can.3
Talk to your doctor before getting on an airplane if you recently had a major surgical procedure or you take birth control medication. The reason is both of them could put you at a higher risk of DVT. Your doctor might recommend that you either take a blood thinner or wear compression stockings during the flight.4
Swelling at the top of the foot usually occurs when fluid seeps out of blood vessels. This, in turn, leads to a buildup of water and sodium. When the kidneys respond by increasing the amount of blood in the area, that can lead to more swelling. This can happen if you’ve recently suffered some sort of foot injury.5
You might, for instance, have suffered some sort of mild foot sprain that didn’t seem that big of a deal at the time. You might even have a fracture. Swelling might occur gradually, due to an increase in synovial fluid.6 This happens when a joint is irritated; the body produces fluid in order to heal itself.
Sometimes, top of the foot swelling is a sign that something is wrong elsewhere in the body. For example, if your feet and ankles seem to swell for no reason, you might have a heart issue. The heart isn’t doing a good job of circulating blood. As a result, pressure builds up in your blood vessels and they leaking fluid. This fluid then pools in the feet.7
A kidney problem could also be to blame. Kidneys are designed to move fluid from your body. They also regulate the levels of salt and electrolytes in your system. If the kidneys aren’t working as they should, they can’t eliminate fluid. This also leads to pressure on the blood vessels and swelling. In some cases, swelling at the top of the foot could be a sign of a liver issue due to changes in the chemicals that help regulate fluid levels in the body.8
Side Effects of Medication
There are a lot of medications that cause fluid retention. If you have swelling at the top of your foot and are taking an anti-inflammatory, that medicine could be the cause. Other medications that can lead to swelling include blood pressure drugs, hormone drugs, and antidepressants.9
Pregnant women know all too well that swelling is a part of the process. Part of the reason is the added weight that is putting more pressure on your feet. When the uterus expands that can also create pressure on your blood vessels. Hormones associated with pregnancy can also lead to fluid retention.Resting with your feet elevated, drinking plenty of water, and minimizing your salt intake might help relieve swelling.10
Other Possible Causes
There are several other potential causes of swelling at the top of your foot, including:
Cellulitis – This is a type of bacterial infection due to some sort of break in the skin. It leads to swelling, as well as redness and pain. Antibiotics will typically clear up the problem within a few days.11
Inactivity – If you lead a sedentary lifestyle and tend to stay in one position for an extended period of time, you might be more prone to swelling. Try to walk around every hour or so to keep fluid circulating properly.
Vein issues – You might have a problem with the valves in your veins. If they don’t work correctly, that can lead to a pooling of blood in the feet.12
When to See a Doctor
If you have any reason to believe you might have a DVT, get to a doctor immediately. If you have a fever, shortness of breath, or severe pain, those are also signs you need to get medical attention as soon as possible. And, if you find yourself dealing with swelling on top of your foot for longer than a few days, get checked out.
The Bottom Line
Swelling on the top of the foot isn’t something you should ignore, though it is usually harmless. The key is to find out what’s causing it. If it’s temporary, as you might get from flying or standing for long stretches, get up and move around as much as you can. Elevating your foot might help as well.
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