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Six Best Tips for Swelling (Edema) Management

Swelling (also called Edema in medical term) is a common symptom from injuries, infection or inflammation. Although it’s a part of healing, but it can last for months without proper treatments. Excessive swelling may cause more pain, limited range of motion and nerve irritation. Therefore, it’s essential to manage your swelling to prevent more serious complication. Now, let’s check out six best tips to help reducing the annoying swelling!


1. Elevation

Elevation is the very first step you can do to prevent swelling getting worse. It’s especially useful in an acute stage, when you have to immobilize your injured tissue / joints (such as fracture) in a cast or brace, there’s nothing much you can do except elevation.


Most ideally, you want to raise the injured body part above your heart level. For example, for your swollen hand, keep the elbow and hand higher than the heart. As the swelling usually gets worse in the sedentary time, it’s particularly important to follow the elevation principle when you sleep, even just an extra pillow can help a lot!


2. Massage

Massage is a great way to help redirecting the excessive lymphatic fluid out of the swelling part. In the clinic, we always show our patients how to perform retrograde massage for swelling management, check out this awesome video from a hand therapist!

However, if you have existing heart conditions or deep vein thrombosis problems, you should consult your doctor before the retrograde massage. It is also contraindicated for infectious tissue!


3. Compression

Wearing a compression sleeve, glove or sock is one of the best methods to treat swollen limbs. Compressive bandage, such as Coban, is one of the great products for edema management. What’s more, when applying any form of compression garments, you should start from distal towards proximal part. Also make sure to expose the fingernail or toenail, so you can easily monitor the circulation status.


4. Active Exercises 

Studies showed active exercises facilitate muscular pumping and lymphatic flow. Furthermore, when actively moving the swollen joints/limbs with compression bandage, it creates a pseudo-massage effect, which helps in more efficient reduction of distal edema.

Hand/Foot pumping exercises with elevation is also an effective way to help swelling management.


5. Contrast Bath

Contrast bath is another useful method to diminish swelling in hand, foot and ankle. The temperature change promotes dilation and contraction of your capillaries in the affected area, which creates a pumping effect to move the lymphatic fluid.

Remember to keep moving the swollen limbs in the bucket, active exercise is essential in contrast bath therapy.

* Make sure you start and end with warm water.


Swelling Swelling


6. Kinesio Taping 

Kinesio Taping is one of my favorite tool to speed up swelling reduction. This elastic tape was designed as thin as skin epidermis, the recoiled tension after application helps to facilitate blood circulation and lymphatic drainage. Several researches indicated its effectiveness in edema control, and it’s been widely used in sports injuries.



Bottom Line

Swelling is a part of healing after injuries, it’s critical to manage it well in the early inflammatory stage, which helps to prevent limited range of motion or nerve irritation. In summary, a successful edema control program consist of elevation above heart level, retrograde massage, compression garments, active pumping exercises, contrast bath therapy and kinesio taping application! 



* Miller, L. K., Jerosch-Herold, C., & Shepstone, L. (2017). Effectiveness of edema management techniques for subacute hand edema: A systematic review. Journal of Hand Therapy, 30(4), 432–446.

* Villeco, J. P. (2012). Edema: A Silent but Important Factor. Journal of Hand Therapy, 25(2), 153–162.





Andrew Tan, OTR/L, CHT, CKTP, CEAS
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Andrew Tan, OTR/L, CHT, CKTP, CEAS

The founder of "Rehab For A Better Life", specialized in ergonomic consultation, rehabilitation for upper extremity injuries, sports injuries and work-related injuries. Andrew believes rehab-related knowledge should be easy to learn and follow at home, because "knowledge is power only when we can share it" !