Edema, the medical term for swelling, is the result of capillaries (smallest blood vessels in the human body) leaking fluid into nearby tissue. Edema may be the result of several mechanisms, including:
- Excessive force, or pressure inside the blood vessels
- A force outside of the blood vessel causing fluid to be drawn out
- Fluid loss due to a compromised blood vessel wall
During the initial phase of tissue healing, there is an influx in chemical mediators which results in an increase in blood flow and capillary permeability. This causes extra fluid to accumulate in the surrounding tissue and causes swelling. This response allows more white blood cells (infection-fighting cells) to enter the affected area making it an important component to tissue healing. However, edema also inhibits contractile tissues and can significantly limit the injured area’s function. Making it a marker for activity restrictions, and return to activity following an injury. As well, as a sign of performance inhibition.
Edema can also result from sitting in one position for too long, high intake of sodium (salty food), pregnancy and menstruation, as well as a side effect of some medications. It can also be a sign of a more serious underlying medical condition. For the purpose of this article, we will focus on peripheral edema (swelling in the limbs) as a result of injury and activity.
Symptoms of peripheral edema include swelling of the injured/affected area(s), causing a tightening and puffiness of the surrounding skin. It may also cause the skin to appear shiny. In more serious cases of swelling, an indentation may appear following the application of pressure to the area. This is known as pitting edema. The swelling from peripheral edema will increase or decrease with changes in body position; gravity-dependent.
One of the safest and most effective treatments for control and prevention of edema is to wear prescription compression stockings or sleeves. These medical grade stockings are designed to exert the precise amount of constant pressure. They work by compressing your veins, arteries, and muscles, which force your blood through narrower channels, and increase the pressure. The increase in pressure causes and an increase in the volume of deoxygenated blood returning to the heart (venous return), and leaves less to pool in the affected area.
- Baechle, T. Earle, R. (2008). Essentials of strength raining and conditioning. Human Kinetics, 3, 529.