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Thick feet are a relatively common complaint that can occur both acutely and permanently. Older people particularly often suffer from fluid retention in the feet, which causes a significant swelling. Since serious illnesses of the internal organs can be behind the complaints, a doctor's visit is strongly recommended in the event of repeated occurrence.
The term “thick feet” describes an unusually large circumference of the limbs below the ankle. This can be due to a particularly high percentage of body fat or massive excess weight and can be permanent or occur as an acute swelling of the feet. Acutely "swollen feet" therefore form a subset of the fat feet.
The symptoms of fat feet can vary greatly depending on the causes. The symptoms can be chronic or acute, localized or on the entire foot. If, for example, fat deposits in the foot area are the reason for the thickening, this sometimes goes completely without further physical discomfort. Those affected only feel impaired from an aesthetic point of view and because the footwear presses constantly.
In the case of acute swelling, for example as a result of an injury, fracture (broken bone) or rupture (torn ligament), those affected usually suffer from massive foot pain. In addition to the acute swelling of the feet, patients may also complain of foot pain, heel pain and ankle pain. It is not uncommon for the pain to go up to the lower leg or leg.
Occasionally there is tingling in the limbs or numbness in the legs. In addition, numerous other symptoms are possible, which are then explained in more detail in connection with the respective causes.
Causes of fat feet
If people are generally significantly overweight (here: obesity), this is also accompanied by an increased fat deposit on the feet. Some people tend to build up body fat in the foot area, but those of normal weight generally have no problems with fat feet due to fat.
However, other forms of swollen feet can also overtake ordinary people. Diseases of the internal organs, especially the heart, liver, kidneys and thyroid gland sometimes result in acute swelling. For example, a so-called congestion liver can lead to fluid accumulation in the feet.
This also applies to an underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism). Typical for hypothyroidism include chronic fatigue, listlessness, pallor of the face, brittle hair and nails, and sexual discomfort.
Inflammation of the kidneys may be associated with swollen feet. At the same time, those affected often suffer from kidney pain and rather non-specific symptoms such as fever, chills, flank pain, dizziness, nausea and vomiting.
The fluid accumulation can sometimes be traced back to taking medication. For example, certain anti-rheumatic drugs, high blood pressure medications or medicines containing cortisone come into question. Often, those affected complain not only about symptoms in the area of the feet, but also about water in the legs. Alcohol abuse sometimes has a comparable effect. This also applies to allergic reactions, for example due to a food allergy.
Swollen feet due to diseases of the joints
It can be triggered by a joint disease, such as arthrosis or arthritis. The swelling, like the accompanying pain, is usually limited to the area of the affected joints. A joint disease can significantly restrict the ability to move or resilience.
Cause cardiovascular diseases
Diseases of the cardiovascular system can cause a circulatory weakness, which can lead to circulatory disorders and the associated swelling of the feet. On the one hand, these include diseases that directly affect the blood vessels, such as arterial calcification, phlebitis or thrombosis (vascular occlusion),
Heart disease such as coronary heart disease can also be mentioned as a potential trigger for swollen feet. Here, accompanying symptoms can include chest pain or heart pain, rapid heartbeat and heart stumbling.
Fat feet due to disorders of the lymphatic system
Triggers for fluid retention in the feet can be disorders of the lymphatic system. If the lymphatic drainage is impaired, there is a backlog in the feet, which leads to massive swelling. These are called “lymphedema”.
The spectrum of causes is broad. In addition to congenital impairments of the lymphatic vessels, acute damage in the course of surgery, radiation or chemotherapy measures should be mentioned. Bacterial, viral and mycogenic infections can also damage the lymphatic system. The same applies to certain tumor diseases, which however occur extremely rarely.
The metabolic disease diabetes may develop after many years of illness, a so-called "diabetic foot", which increasingly causes poorly healing wounds, cracked, sensitive skin and emotional disorders. In the course of diabetic foot syndrome, lymphedema also occurs and the tissue on the foot begins to die. In the worst case, an amputation of the foot is required
First, a thorough medical history is usually performed, in which patients report in detail on the location and extent of the swelling and the time of onset. This is followed by a first physical examination. Palpation and eavesdropping often provide relatively clear indications of the cause of the swollen feet.
If the complaints are based on diseases of the internal organs or circulatory disorders, modern imaging methods (sonography, computer tomography, magnetic resonance tomography) are usually required to ensure the diagnosis. In case of doubt, a tissue sample (biopsy) can be taken to obtain a clear finding. Blood tests in turn provide important information about possible internal diseases, metabolic diseases, protein deficiency and inflammatory processes.
Similar to the symptoms, the treatment options for fat feet vary extremely. If, for example, fat storage is the cause, this can usually be remedied by a strict diet as well as a lot of exercise and sport. In the case of injuries such as a broken bone or a torn ligament, immobilization has top priority.
Once the fractures or ruptures have healed, physiotherapy should follow, so as not to risk permanent impairments. If the injuries do not heal to the desired extent, surgery in which the bones are straightened or the ligaments reconnected remains the last option.
Circulatory disorders due to vascular disease may require surgical intervention. In other cases, such as in the case of a tumor, surgery is an essential part of the therapy.
Otherwise an attempt is usually made to treat the cause of the swollen feet with medication. For problems with blood circulation, for example, anticoagulant and blood-thinning medicines are used, for heart failure diuretics. Patients with underactive thyroid gland receive hormone preparations and antibiotics or antimyotics are used against kidney inflammation (depending on the trigger).
If the fat feet are due to alcohol or medication abuse, consumption must be stopped immediately and withdrawal therapy may be required.
Naturopathy with big feet
With the help of manual treatment approaches, attempts are made to facilitate the drainage of body fluids from the feet, whereby, for example, osteopathy and rolfing also take advantage of mechanical activation of the muscle pump. Massages or lymphatic drainage are also used to fix the fluid accumulation in the feet.
In manual therapies, however, not only the symptoms in the area of the foot are considered, but also health problems in other parts of the body are included in the treatment. These include, for example, back pain or lower back pain, neck tension, groin pain and abdominal pain.
Proven hydrotherapy can provide beneficial support for circulatory disorders in the legs. For example, treading water is very suitable for the Kneipp cure in your own bathroom.Instructions for Kneipp’s treading water:
- Fill the tub with cold water to the height of the calves
- Keep walking up and down slowly
- With each step, the foot is pulled completely out of the water
Important: Be sure to place an anti-slip mat in the bath to avoid falling.
Another effective method against circulatory disorders is Kneipp's casts, which are also very easy to do at home.Kneipp casts against thick feet:
- Make sure you place your shower or bathtub on a non-slip surface
- First hold the cold water jet to the outside of your right foot
- Then walk up to the bar with the shower
- On the inside, go back to the foot
- Then repeat the process on the left leg
- Perform the casts twice per leg and regularly three times a day
Furthermore, various herbal and homeopathic preparations promise remedies. Schüssler salts are often used as part of alternative medical therapy for fat feet. So-called rejection procedures such as leech therapy help to clear up the fluid accumulation.
In many cases, the cause of fat feet cannot be remedied based on naturopathy. For example, in the case of diabetes or a tumor, there is still no way around traditional medical therapy. Home remedies and alternative procedures do not offer a replacement here, but only a supplement to conventional treatment. (fp, nr)
Author and source information
This text corresponds to the specifications of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.
Dipl. Geogr. Fabian Peters, Barbara Schindewolf-Lensch
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- Jerome M. Hershman: Hypothyroidism (Myxedema), MSD Manual, (accessed Aug 27, 2019), MSD
- Ulrich Herpertz: Edema and lymphatic drainage: diagnosis and therapy, Schattauer Verlag, 5th edition, 2013