Swollen feet and legs? Bloated tummy? Water retention is a common problem, especially in the summer months. The good news is that in most cases it’s not dangerous and can be eased with diet and lifestyle management, along with massage and self-acupressure. This month we’ll look at common causes of water retention and remedies for it, including of course some handy acupressure points that you can massage to help get rid of water retention.
What is water retention?
Also known as oedema, water retention occurs when fluid collects in the body’s tissues instead of returning to the blood circulation. This results in swelling and discomfort, most commonly in the feet, legs, abdomen and face.
What causes water retention?
It can be triggered by various things, such as sitting or standing for long periods, high salt intake, dehydration, hormonal changes (including PMT and menopause), pregnancy, flying in planes, and taking certain medications. Less commonly, oedema can also be a sign of problems with the kidneys, heart or liver – so if you have persistent water retention which doesn’t respond to any of the remedies recommended here, be sure to consult your GP.
How to tell if you have water retention Common symptoms of water retention include:
swollen feet, ankles and legs
shiny, stretched or red skin
bloating, especially in the abdominal area
puffy face, especially in the morning
breast tenderness (women)
rapid weight fluctuations (may vary during the course of one day)
weight gain that looks puffy rather than flabby
pain or stiffness in the joints
How to get rid of water retention, our top ten tips!
1. Cut back on salt
One of the main causes of water retention is high sodium intake from salty food, which prompts your body to hold on to water in order to maintain a safe electrolyte balance. Even if you don’t add much table salt to your food, it lurks in large quantities in many packaged and processed foods, so avoid these or opt for low-sodium alternatives.
2. Eat more of these foods!
Potassium and magnesium play an important role in balancing sodium levels in the body – good sources include bananas, avocados, leafy greens, citrus fruit and wholewheat flour. Vitamin B6 can also help to reduce water retention and is found in foods such as nuts and seeds, brown rice, sweet potatoes, lean meat, tuna and salmon. Finally, diuretic foods can help to flush the excess fluid out – watermelons, lettuce, cucumbers, asparagus, celery, parsley and other fruits and vegetables with a high water content are all great in this respect. But beware of caffeine and alcohol – while these have a diuretic effect, they also dehydrate you and further aggravate water retention.
3. Put your feet up – high!
If you’re prone to swollen feet and/or legs, elevating them can encourage the trapped fluid to move back up through the body. For this to be really effective, you need to lie down with your feet above the level of your heart. If your mobility allows, a simple yoga pose which helps to get rid of water retention in the legs is to lie on your back with your legs propped up against a wall (ideally at a near 90 degree angle, but less is also fine). For those who spend most of their time sitting due to impaired mobility, using a foot stool can also help to relieve swollen feet and legs.
4. Stay active
If your job keeps you sitting or standing long hours in the same position, try using the "Pomodoro Technique" where you work in focused 20~25 minute stints followed by a 3~5 minute break – you can set reminders on your phone to go off at the appropriate intervals. And use those short breaks to get your circulation going – walk around, stretch, do star jumps, get a glass of water... whatever your body and your work environment allow! This way you’ll be much less prone to swollen feet and legs, as well as other occupational hazards such as back and neck ache, and it also improves your focus and productivity. And don’t forget to make regular exercise a part of your life outside of work – along with its countless other benefits, staying active is one of the best ways to improve blood circulation and prevent water retention!
5. Stay hydrated
Drinking more water may seem counter-intuitive when you’re trying to get rid of water retention, but in fact if your body is holding on to water it may be because you’re not getting enough of it! Especially during warmer weather, it’s easy to become dehydrated without realising it so make sure you drink plenty of fluids.
6. Compression garments
Compression socks or stockings help to ease swollen feet and legs by gently squeezing them to keep the blood circulating and prevent fluid from building up. Similarly, compression sleeves and gloves can relieve water retention in the arms and hands. But don’t apply this principle to all your clothes and footwear! If you suffer from chronic water retention, wearing tight-fitting clothing and shoes will only increase your discomfort.
7. Herbal teas and Water retention pills
Herbal teas such as dandelion, verbena, mint and nettle are great for stimulating your waterworks. Also worth considering are various herbal supplements with diuretic effects available over-the-counter, to provide relief from the symptoms of water retention. If you have persistent oedema, your doctor may prescribe diuretic medications.
Massaging your feet and legs with smooth upward strokes helps to get the circulation going and shift the trapped fluids back into the blood vessels and away from the swollen extremity (the same applies for swollen hands and arms). You can either do this yourself or enlist the help of a friend or partner – in the latter case, lying down with the affected limbs elevated will help to get the fluids moving in the right direction. Water retention in the abdominal area can also be eased by massage – use the heel of your hand and apply firm pressure while massaging with circular strokes.
For facial bloating, massage focusing on the lymph nodes around the face and neck can bring relief – stay tuned for next month’s newsletter, where we will dive deeper into massage techniques and acupressure points for a healthy and radiant face!
If you have stubborn water retention caused by blockages in the lymphatic system, it may be worth booking yourself a lymphatic drainage massage. (You can also find a series of videos on self-applied lymphatic drainage massage here.)
9. Dry Brushing
Another great way to boost your circulation and get rid of water retention is dry body brushing. Choose a natural fibre brush with a long handle to give you a better reach. A simple dry brushing routine takes no more than a few minutes, and the best time to do it is just before a shower since it also exfoliates your skin, which you can then sluice off. Using short, rapid strokes of the brush, start at your feet and work upwards towards your heart – then repeat for your arms, starting at the hands. This stimulates the lymphatic system and flushes out stagnant fluid and toxins.
Last but not least, acupressure can be phenomenally effective in getting rid of water retention. Which points you use may depend on which part of your body is affected – here we’ll look at a few points which are useful for oedema in the legs, feet and abdomen, as well as one which helps to relieve oedema throughout the body. (More points targeting facial puffiness coming next month!)
For general tips on how to apply acupressure massage, click here.
“Your body is your most priceless possession. Take care of it.” - Jack Lalane
DIY Acupressure Massage for:
Water retention / Oedema
Acupressure massage therapy to the rescue! Let's help our bodies shrink back by getting stagnant fluids moving again and Oedema out of our system. Here are a few points you can work on to relieve water retention.
DIY Acupressure Massage Technique
To stimulate the acupoints, go into them slowly but firmly with a finger or thumb, and massage them with a circular or up-and-down motion for at least 30 seconds and up to 3 minutes at a time. (Or just count 10 to 20 deep breaths for each point, if you find it more relaxing than looking at the clock!)
Please note: If you are pregnant, only use Acupressure if you are 37weeks or over.
Some Acupressure points can induce labour! Instead this blog should be of interest to you.
Yin Mound Spring or Yin Ling Quan - SP9
Located on the inside of the leg, just below the knee - to find it, run your finger up the inner edge of the tibia bone (shinbone) on your lower leg.
Known for its “damp removing” qualities, this point is great for easing water retention, especially in the legs and feet. It’s also used to treat various disorders of the urinary and reproductive systems, as well as hepatitis, jaundice, and pain in the knees and lower legs.
SPLEEN MERIDIAN Three Yin Intersection or San Yin Jiao - SP6 Caution: do not use this point if you are pregnant, as it can induce labour!
Place your little finger on the highest point of the inner ankle bone of the opposite leg and rest the other fingers on the inside leg above it, to measure four finger widths up from the ankle. Place the thumb of your other hand just above the main knuckle of your index finger, in the groove behind the tibia bone. SP6 is one of the most powerful points in acupressure and acupuncture, treating a wide range of conditions including urogenital disorders, oedema, insomnia and skin diseases.
LARGE INTESTINE MERIDIAN Diverging Passage or Pian li – LI6
With your palm facing down, measure four finger widths from your wrist crease on the side of the arm closest to the thumb. LI6 is located here on the edge of the arm bone. This is a good point to use if you have difficulty reaching the points on your legs. It can help to relieve water retention anywhere in the body and is also clinically used for ear and eye problems, pain in the arms, toothache and facial paralysis.
CONCEPTION VESSEL (REN MAI)
Sea of Energy or Qi Hai - CV6 (REN6)
Caution: Avoid applying pressure to this point during pregnancy
Located two finger widths below the navel. This point is great for abdominal bloating, whether it’s caused by water retention, gas or overeating. Also useful for relieving constipation, diarrhea and cramps, strengthening the immune system and boosting vitality.
We hope these help you. Try to massage these acupressure points 2 or 3 times a day for 10 to 14 consecutive days and let us know what worked best for you.
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To see more pressure points for relieving shoulder and neck pain, as well as headaches and migraines, check out this blog in our DIY acupressure massage therapy series. Numbness or strain in your hands after gardening? Help is here!
See you next month!
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