health

"The 10-minute trick a naturopath gave me to deflate my swollen calves after a long day."

I have a secret shame I’m spending way too much time on.

For some people it’s scrolling social media or taking selfies. Others, eating or drinking booze. For me, it’s sitting on my butt.

Well, all of those other things as well, but generally I do all the above sitting down too.

Sometimes my inactivity is a result of my office job – it’s normal not to see me move from my desk during an eight-hour workday (even with HR telling me to take my break, ugh). But most of the time it’s because I simply don’t use my legs for things when I should, or often enough.

This, along with medically diagnosed poor circulation causes my lower legs – calves and ankles – to swell after a long day of living.

Sitting on the train on my way home, I look down at my legs to find sausage-like, rectangle balloons where I swear I left my human calves. Nope, just my cankles.

Then a naturopath gave me a nifty 10-minute trick I’ve since incorporated into my daily routine that provides visible results.

It had me at only 10 minutes of my time per day, but it helps no equipment is required and you can do things like check Instagram, send a text, and FaceTime with your mum at the same time.

The ‘trick’ is lying down on your back with your bum and legs up against the wall. Or with your legs on a couch. That’s it.

lower leg swelling
Yes, I made my colleague take a picture of me doing the thing. Image: Supplied.
lower leg swelling
And the modified version for when you don't want to push yourself. Image: Supplied.
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Erm, my yoga teacher tells me to do this all the time, you say with the smugness of someone who knew something before everyone else. And you're right.

This trick isn't new, nor revolutionary. It's been a big part of yoga, pilates and meditation practices for years. Oh, and wellness bloggers like JS Health's Jessica Sepel recommends it too.

But do you know how and why it can work to deflate puffy, swollen lower legs? I asked a naturopath and a doctor to find out.

Will Shannon, a naturopath, iridologist and the founder of Pinnacle Health, and trusted GP and TV doctor, Dr Brad McKay both agreed the reason lifting your legs up reduces swelling is because you're using gravity to help blood make it's way to your heart.

For Shannon, this process is primarily about encouraging heavier toxins to flow back to the heart and to other organs for processing.

"Old school naturopaths and herbalists believe toxicity in the blood settles in the hands and feet, and sometimes even the reproductive organs because of gravity," he said.

"Fluid retention or oedema in the lower legs can occur when fluid in the blood ends up in your feet. It's very difficult for the heart to pump this thick fluid in the blood back up [the legs] to your kidneys and liver to process, especially if they're overwhelmed with other acidic products like a lot of red meat or alcohol which may contribute to an excess of fluid in the blood."

The static position of laying on your back with your legs raised or upright against a wall Shannon recommended was developed based on the moves made famous by pilates creator Jospeh Pilates.

"These moves are designed to encourage alignment through the pelvis, help relieve lower back pain and invert the lower body above the heart to encourage reverse blood flow and toxicity."

Speaking of wellness, Brigid Delaney walked us through the 'wellness paradox' with Mia Freedman on No Filter. Post continues after audio.

From a medical standpoint, Dr McKay explained our calf muscles effectively work like a pump, meaning people who sit down on their bums all the time like I do won't experience the benefit of that mechanism. Hence the swollen legs.

"If you're walking around during the day, your calf works as a pump mechanism to pump blood out of your legs, up to your heart and out to the rest of your body," he said.

"Sitting at your desk all day means you're not getting the benefit of that pump mechanism and that's why you're getting that swelling by the end of the day.

"It's really common for GPs to recommend putting your feet up in the air or on a couple of cushions on the couch while watching Netflix if they're swollen - it's about elevating the legs to use gravity to pull the blood back down towards your heart."

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Dr McKay also highlighted some other lifestyle and medical factors that contribute to swelling in the lower legs.

"[Things like] varicose veins, poor circulation, if you're not very fit, if you're carrying a little bit of extra weight, particularly in the abdomen as that can press on the groin and create an obstruction so the blood is not going to flow as freely as it would, can cause swelling."

"Even some medications like the oral contraceptive pill, hormonal changes (like during pregnancy), or blood pressure medication or calcium channel blockers [can factor in].

"People especially with varicose veins will have a pooling of blood in the veins in their legs, so much so some people find standing for long periods of time say watching the Mardi Gras for four hours not moving will make them feel light headed because their blood pressure drops as their blood is pooling in their ankles and calves."

As well as putting your legs up against the wall (but not at the office as "some people might be worried about you", Dr McKay added), alternative solutions include putting your legs up on the couch on some cushions and simply moving more.

"Making sure you're getting up and walking around will activate that pump mechanism in your calf to help your blood circulate a bit better. If you're over 60 and have a history of heart disease, or are experiencing really swollen or painful lower legs, always go and see your doctor."

Now if you don't mind, I'm going to go back to lying down on my back with my legs up in the air. Because it's deflates my cankles, but also because it just feels really bloody good.

Have you tried this trick before? What helps ease your weary legs after a long day at work?

This article is one woman's experience and should not be substituted for professional medical advise. Please always consult your GP or health professional if you're experiencing symptoms.

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