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How to Reduce Water Retention | Causes of Fluid Retention

Updated on May 5, 2013

Causes of Fluid Retention

Fluid or water retention (oedema or edema) occurs when fluid is trapped in the body tissues. Symptoms include swelling of body parts, most often in the feet, hands, ankles and legs, giving the sufferer the feeling of stiffness or aching, and causes weight fluctuations.

Fluid retention or swelling can be caused by any of the following :

  • a bumped shin or ankle sprain
  • a bloated feeling following a very salty meal
  • preceding monthly menstrual period
  • sitting or standing for hours
  • reaction to hot weather
  • over-exertion
  • typing non-stop
  • weeding in a garden
  • any activity in which the same movements are performed repeatedly

Fluid retention can also be an indicator of more serious health problem such as :

  • Heart failure
  • Chronic lung disease
  • Arthritis
  • Blood vessel disorder
  • Kidney disease
  • Allergic reaction

How to Reduce Water Retention or Swelling

Water retention or swelling is the body’s first reaction to injury. If it is not treated, it can lead to joint stiffness which compromises its function and delays healing. Hence, steps should be taken to bring down the swelling from an injury as soon as possible. Below are some tips for reducing minor water retention and for preventing excess fluid from accumulating in the first place. However, if you suspect that swelling is caused by sprain or facture or encompasses the whole body, please consult your doctor.


1. Apply Ice Pack

Place the ice cubes in a sandwich bag with a zipper-type seal, and apply this ice pack on the swelling area caused by sprain or strain to bring down the swelling. Wet compresses can be too harsh on the skin. Wrap the ice pack with a napkin, towel or a T-shirt. Dry ice pack compresses allow the ice to affect deeper body tissues than damp compresses.

2. Apply a bag of frozen peas or frozen unpopped popcorn

You can also use a bag of frozen peas or frozen unpopped popcorn instead of ice pack. Specially made hot or cold packs are also effective. For rheumatoid arthritis, alternating hot and cold treatments on swollen joints can be effective in reducing the swollen area.

3. Elevate your hand or foot above your heart

Swelling, caused by blood trapped in the blood vessels, is due to the heart unable to pump the blood hard enough through the entire body.

Gravity also worsens the water retention. It causes blood and fluid to settle in the lower parts of the body, especially when you stand or sit for several hours.

Elevating the hand or foot above your heart allows the gravity to return the excess fluid back to the heart and kidney and let it drain out of your swollen low-extremity tissues.

When your hands swell, sit up and raise it, so that your thumb is at same level as your nose. For swollen leg or ankle, elevate them on a couple of pillows or the back of a couch.

4. Wear Compression Stockings

For minor swelling due to long hours of standing or sitting, wear compression stockings to apply more pressure to the lower leg and increase blood circulation. It helps to wear it throughout the hours you need to stand or sit, such as long hours sitting on the airplane. The stocking comes in various length and degrees of compression, and if you are not sure which one suits you, consult a doctor or pharmacist. Doctor can also prescribe stockings to pregnant women who suffer from water retention.

5. Keep the Legs Moving

Moving the legs will help the leg muscles pump blood and other fluid back to the heart. So, walk and do other aerobic activities to lower water retention. If you find that exercise itself causes water retention in your hands or legs, wear a pair of stretch gloves on your hand or compression stocking on your legs while working out.

For people who have to limit their movement due to arthritis, flex the knee and ankle joints up and down. Doing a tighten-and-release routine on the thigh and calf muscles can also help.

6. Take a Break

If repetitive movement is the causing the swelling in the hands and wrists, take a break.

7. Massage the Swelling Area

Gently massage the tender injury area will help to increase the blood circulation and reduce swelling. For hand injury, gently bend the joints to prevent stiffness.

8. Check Your Medication

Some prescription drugs such as blood pressure medications (like reserpine and nifedipine) and hormone control pills (like birth control pills) can cause fluid retention.

9. Avoid Constricting Clothing

Tight garments such as belts, garters and girdles can apply too much pressure on the upper thighs and waist. This will restrict the removal of fluids and cause edema in the lower legs.

10. Adjust Your Jewelry

Jewelry such as wristwatches, rings and bracelets for wrist and ankle that are worn too tight can worsen and in some cases cause swelling.

11. Maintain Proper Weight

Overweight people have higher chances of developing edema. They will also be more likely to be affected by heat and humidity, which can aggravate water retention.

12. Reduce Salt Intake

Salt or sodium can cause the body to retain fluid. Avoid heavily salted snacks such as potato chips, pretzels, popcorns and so on. Choose the low-salt or no-salt potato chips instead. Check the labels before you purchase.

In all your cookings, reduce the amount of salt you add to the food.

Water Retention - Treatment and Symptoms

What You Should Not Do To Worsen Water Retention

1. Cross the legs

Crossing your legs when sitting can restrict blood flow through the veins in the thighs; this in turn can aggravate fluid retention in the lower legs.

2. Pull the Fingers or Toes

Some people believe that pulling the stiffened fingers will stop the swelling. The danger of doing this is that it can actually cause more injury in the area. Pulling can tear the ligaments and tendons, creating bigger problem which you don’t want to have.


The text and all images on this page, unless otherwise indicated, are owned by Ingenira who hereby asserts her copyright on the material. Permission must be granted by the author in writing prior to copy or republish this article in print or online. However, please feel free to copy the first paragraph with a link back to this page. Thank you.

© Ingenira


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    • profile image


      3 years ago

      Hi thank you great info

      Just want to clarify if legs already swollen can I wear compression socks

    • SavioC profile image


      5 years ago

      This info is really very helpful as one of my friend was just complaining about it just 2 days back. This is packed with information. Thanks.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Get ice on it and massage the area with the ice for the first 8 hours. Applying a cmsrpesoion wrap will help. If it is very little swelling, then you have a grade 1 sprain and it will heal within about 5-7 days.References : Wound Healing Expert 0Was this answer helpful?

    • Ingenira profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago

      Thanks, Alicia, for your kind comment.

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 

      6 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thanks for the detailed information and for all the useful tips for dealing with water retention, Ingenira.

    • Ingenira profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago

      Anamika, thanks for the vote up !

    • Ingenira profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago

      Yes, Nell Rose, most people experienced this fluid retention some time in our lives. Thanks for your comment.

    • Ingenira profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago

      Thank you, drbj. No pain at all. :)

    • Anamika S profile image

      Anamika S Jain 

      6 years ago from Mumbai - Maharashtra, India

      That's a lot of information about water retention. Hub voted up!

    • Nell Rose profile image

      Nell Rose 

      6 years ago from England

      This is great ingenira, its really useful as most of us have this problem at some time in our lives, voted and shared, nell

    • drbj profile image

      drbj and sherry 

      6 years ago from south Florida

      Very thorough information on the subject of water retention, Ingenira. Thank you for your time and painstaking research.


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