How to Treat Swollen Feet From Multiple Sclerosis

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is an autoimmune condition that affects the brain and spinal cord. This disease occurs when the immune system mistakenly attacks its own healthy tissues.

Swollen feet may be a side effect of multiple sclerosis.

This article discusses why MS may cause swollen feet, how to treat it, and ways to prevent it from recurring.

swollen feet and ankles

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Why Does MS Cause Swollen Feet?

Swelling in the feet is caused by a collection of fluid that leaks out of your blood vessels as blood is pumped through your body. Normally, this fluid builds in your lymphatic system and is returned to your heart. Contraction of the muscles in your legs helps pump this fluid up the body toward your heart as you are active during the day.

Multiple sclerosis significantly impacts mobility, requiring a person with this condition to often spend the majority of their day sitting or lying down. Due to lack of mobility, the muscles aren't able to pump fluid back to the heart, causing swollen feet.

Complications

While swelling is typically due to loss of mobility and muscle weakness associated with MS, it can also be a sign of something more serious, such as a blood clot or heart issue. If swelling occurs, seek immediate medical attention.

Treating Swollen Feet

There are several treatment options for swollen feet that occur with multiple sclerosis. These include:

Elevate Your Legs

Elevating your legs will allow you to use gravity to your advantage and help move excess fluid from your feet back toward your heart. Ideally, elevate your feet higher than your heart for the best results.

If you're lying down, prop a few pillows under your legs. If you're sitting in a wheelchair, elevate your feet so that they are higher than your hips.

Wear Compression Stockings

Elastic stockings can help reduce edema (swelling) that develops throughout the day. Stockings should be put on first thing in the morning, when your legs are the least swollen, and removed for sleep. Most people may need knee-high compression stockings, and can try lower amounts of compression to start.

Walk Frequently

Sitting for long periods of time can contribute to swollen feet. Walk around for a few minutes every hour so your leg muscles can help pump fluid away from your feet.

Do Ankle Pumps

These exercises help contract the muscles in your calves to pump fluid back toward the heart. Point your toes down as far as you can, then pull your feet up toward you in the opposite direction. Pump your ankles 10 times each and perform this exercise every hour that you are sedentary. For best results, do this exercise with your legs elevated.

Preventing Swollen Feet

Home remedies to help treat swollen feet—elevation, compression stockings, walking, and ankle pump exercises—can also help prevent this side effect from occurring.

Pneumatic compression machines are also sometimes used—particularly if swelling happens frequently, or you don't have use of your leg muscles. Inflatable sleeves are wrapped with Velcro around the lower legs, then filled with air to create pressure that helps move fluid back up toward your heart.

When to See a Healthcare Provider

See your healthcare provider if you have pitting edema—swelling that leaves an indentation when you press your finger against the skin on your feet—or if your current treatment methods aren't working.

Summary

Multiple sclerosis is a neurological disorder that affects your brain and spinal cord. This condition often causes limited mobility and muscle weakness, which can lead to swollen feet. Treatments such as elevating your legs, wearing compression stockings, walking, practicing leg exercises, and using pneumatic compression devices can help.

A Word From Verywell

Swollen feet might not seem as important as other side effects caused by multiple sclerosis, but left untreated, this minor inconvenience can lead to major problems. Be sure to discuss your swollen feet with your multiple sclerosis healthcare provider.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • When should I be concerned about swollen feet?

    Talk to your healthcare provider if your feet remain swollen after elevating them for a few hours, or if other interventions are not working. Let your provider know if your swelling becomes pitted—leaving a "pit" or imprint of your finger when you press against your skin.

  • What helps swollen feet from MS?

    Swollen feet can be treated by elevating your legs, wearing compression stockings, walking, and doing ankle exercises. Pneumatic compression devices are also sometimes used.

  • Will swelling in the feet from MS go away on its own?

    If you've got MS and your feet are swollen during the day, it's possible that your swelling will decrease on its own overnight when your legs have been elevated for an extended period of time.

4 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. Advances and challenges in treating lymphedema: A Q and A with Dhruv Singhal, M.D.

  2. National Multiple Sclerosis Society. Lymphedema in multiple sclerosis.

  3. Frohman TC, Castro W, Shah A, et al. Symptomatic therapy in multiple sclerosisTher Adv Neurol Disord. 2011;4(2):83-98. doi:10.1177/1756285611400658

  4. Toya K, Sasano K, Takasoh T, et al. Ankle positions and exercise intervals effect on the blood flow velocity in the common femoral vein during ankle pumping exercisesJournal of Physical Therapy Science. 2016;28(2):685-688. doi:10.1589/jpts.28.685

By Aubrey Bailey, PT, DPT, CHT
Aubrey Bailey is a physical therapist and professor of anatomy and physiology with over a decade of experience providing in-person and online education for medical personnel and the general public, specializing in the areas of orthopedic injury, neurologic diseases, developmental disorders, and healthy living.