The Ugly Truth About Cankles

August 6, 2020
August 6, 2020 Dr Zil

Most people would agree that ‘cankles’ are not a desirable trait to have. Although they are not directly classified as a dangerous medical condition, cankles can be unsightly and damaging to a persons self-esteem, plus, they also could also be linked to underlying heart problems. Let’s explore the ugly truth about cankles and how to find relief.

First things first: what are cankles?

A tapered, slim ankle is the beauty ideal. In some cases, however, a person lacks the definition between the calf and ankle, creating a full or ‘swollen’ appearance above the foot. What causes cankles to form really depends on each person. Below are the major contributing factors for developing cankles and what can be done to improve their appearance.

It’s in your genes

Sometimes heredity plays a role in how your anatomy is structured. If one of your parents had ‘thick’ ankles then you may have them too. This can be due to being overweight or having less natural definition between your calves and ankles, even if you are normal weight and exercise regularly.

What can you do? If you’re overweight or obese, losing weight and engaging in regular exercise can help improve the appearance and tone of your lower legs and by extension your ankles. Keep in mind that it’s very difficult to spot reduce any particular area of the body so if you’re genetically predisposed to this condition, losing weight and eating healthy may not produce the desired results.

Some women chose to have a surgery called “ankle liposuction” to improve their lower leg contour. This procedure involves surgically removing or sucking out excess fat, usually by a cosmetic surgeon. Keep in mind that any surgery carries health risks and the results are never guaranteed.

The ugly truth about cankles: poor circulation

Many women develop cankles during pregnancy because of diminished blood circulation and physical activity. The appearance of cankles is actually caused by swelling and fluid retention, which are both side-effects of an impaired circulatory system. Once the pregnancy is over, everything should return to normal and the cankles normally go away on their own.

If your lower legs are swollen even when you’re not pregnant, then you may be suffering from water retention due to poor nutrition or a high sodium intake. In this case, reducing foods with high salt content and eating more vegetables and fruits can improve your overall health and reduce inflammation in your body. It’s also a good idea to get at least 30 minutes of regular exercise daily as physical activity helps to improve blood circulation and to reduce water retention.

Poor blood circulation often happens in the cooler months, for more on this: Impact of cold weather on circulation and varicose veins.

Sometimes the formation of cankles can signify the presence of a condition called chronic venous insufficiency. If diet and exercise don’t seem to be helping, it may be a good idea to see your doctor about your concerns. They may refer you to a vein specialist to rule out anything more serious such as the presence of hidden varicose veins or blood clots.

Varicose veins and cankles

Veins are responsible for carrying oxygen-rich blood from around the body, back up to the heart. However, when vein valves, or vein walls, become damaged they can lead to a condition called chronic venous insufficiency. As well as swelling and skin discolouration, one of the symptoms of CVI is varicose veins. When blood is not able to flow back up to the heart, it begins to reflux or pool, forming twisted, enlarged vessels you know as varicose veins.

The below illustration shows the blood flow in healthy veins vs varicose veins:

Animated illustration of a normal vein and varicose vein on a leg.

Improving circulation and preventing varicose veins

If you’re at risk of developing varicose veins, it’s important to keep your blood circulation healthy. Here are some tips:

  • Healthy diet: The best way to bolster your circulation is by eating foods that support your veins. Certain fruits and veggies contain micronutrients that are vital to ensuring good vascular health.
  • Vitamins: Supplement your diet with grape seed extract (Vitis vinifera). Studies confirm that taking 100mg of grape seed extract per day can improve chronic venous insufficient (CVI) symptoms such as pain, swelling, itchiness and heaviness in just ten days.
  • Mental health: Although stress doesn’t cause cankles or varicose veins, chronic stress can exacerbate your symptoms. Managing stress levels, therefore, is very important when it comes to maintaining the health of your veins.
  • Stay active: Daily moderate exercise – yoga, swimming, hiking, walking your dog or riding a bike can all have a positive effect on your circulatory system. Particularly, if your profession requires you to sit or stand all day, make time throughout your day to stretch or walk around to help with circulation.
  • Wear compression stockings: compression stockings have been shown to promote circulation and significantly improve venous insufficiency. Unlike regular socks or stockings, compressional garments use specially designed elastic material to gradually tighten and support the surface veins in the lower legs. This strategically applied pressure helps swollen veins to constrict and propels the flow of blood back to the heart more efficiently. Compression stockings are now available for purchase at The Vein Institute Shop.

Read more: 5 ways to promote healthy veins and blood circulation

Other medical causes of ankle swelling

Some medications are known to promote swelling in your lower legs. These include anti-depressants, blood pressure drugs and even some contraception pills. If you developed swelling in your legs after taking any of these or other medications then consult with your doctor about your symptoms.

Rarely, a sudden onset of swollen ankles and increased fluid retention in the body can indicate the presence of kidney disease, liver and heart failure. Seek medical attention immediately if you develop any of these symptoms.

Seek expert advice

The doctors at The Vein Institute specialise in varicose vein treatment. We offer patients a comprehensive treatment program to treat varicose veins, with non-surgical laser treatment techniques. The benefits of laser treatment to patients are;

  • Walk-in walk-out treatment
  • 98% success rate
  • Extremely effective
  • Can be performed at a clinic (no hospitalisation)
  • No general anaesthetic
  • Medicare rebates apply
  • No downtime or time away from work

To book a consultation and discuss our treatment program, call  1300 535 017. Or, make an enquiry via the Contact Us page.