The term cankles is not a medical term. It is a slang term many people use to describe their calf and ankle area.
When someone says they have cankles, they mean that their ankles are not much smaller than their calf area.
It is as if the legs and the ankles are one and the same, i.e. cankles.
But what are cankles, what causes cankles, and does a helpful cankle treatment exist? Let’s explore these topics below.
What Are Cankles?
Cankles are also sometimes referred to as calf ankles, kancles, chubby ankles, thick ankles, fat ankles, or big ankles.
The word cankle is just another word for large ankles.
These big ankles can be caused by swelling, excessive fat accumulation in the calves and ankles, or simply genetics.
What Causes Cankles?
If it seems like you have always had cankles regardless of weight fluctuations, chances are you were just born with large ankle joints.
This isn’t a medical issue, just a body type. The good news is healthy people sometimes have big ankles, and that is perfectly okay.
Excess fluid retention in the body can contribute to swelling or puffiness in the ankle area. Common health conditions that contribute to excess fluid include:
- Medical conditions like Congestive Heart Failure, high blood pressure, diabetes, and autoimmune diseases, arthritis, lymphedema, kidney diseases, PCOS, cirrhosis, and thyroid conditions (1).
- Poor diet and excessive salt consumption
- Poor circulation or blood flow and Varicose Veins
- Remaining in a sitting or standing position for long periods
- Certain medications
- Hormone fluctuations, pregnancy, and menstruation
When we gain excessive weight, lipids or fat can accumulate in different areas of the body. For some, the fat from excessive weight gain accumulates in the ankles causing the appearance of cankles.
This accumulation causes the ankle area to look puffy.
Lipedema is another condition that causes excessive accumulation of fat cells in the ankle area.
Lipedema is not caused by obesity.
In fact, when people with lipedema try to lose weight, they will often lose weight in their upper body. But they are unable to decrease the fatty deposits in their lower body.
The cause of lipedema is unknown. But it appears to be partly genetic and related to hormone changes. Lipedema is more common in women. It often begins during times of hormonal shifts, like during puberty, pregnancy, and menopause (2).
Lipedema can lead to secondary lymphedema, which can further exasperate water retention issues.
What Are Cankles a Sign Of?
If you notice you have recently come down with a case of cankles or have larger ankles than usual, you may want to check with your doctor.
Swelling of the ankles and water retention are common cankle-causers. They could be a sign of the other medical problems:
A condition caused by a blockage in the lymphatic system (3). A lymphatic system is a group of vessels that drain lymph from tissues into the blood. Lymph is the fluid that contains white blood cells. White blood cells are an important part of the immune system.
Deep Vein Thrombosis
A condition in which blood clots form in the veins of the lower legs and thighs (4).
Varicose veins refer to enlarged veins. These veins often appear in the legs and can contribute to water retention in the ankles (5).
Congestive Heart Failure
Congestive Heart Failure refers to the weakening of the heart. This condition can cause fluid to build up in the body tissues including the ankles (6).
Some of the symptoms of heart failure are shortness of breath, lack of energy, or fatigue. Fluid retention, weight gain, and chest pain could also signal the condition.
Kidney Disease and Kidney Failure
When the kidneys are damaged, your body may struggle to remove fluid through urination. When your body holds onto too much water, the fluid can go to unwanted areas like the ankles (7).
The accumulation of fat deposits in body tissues, usually the lower body (2).
Liver Disease and Liver Failure
The liver is the gateway to your body. It helps with food metabolism and helps nutrients get to where they need to go in the body.
The liver also helps remove waste and toxins from the body. With this disease, a host of symptoms can occur. One symptom of liver disease is water retention in the calves and ankles (7).
Hormone changes during pregnancy can cause swelling in the feet and ankles. Swelling of the feet and ankles can also be a sign of preeclampsia, or high blood pressure, during pregnancy (8).
Diabetes is a condition in which you lose your ability to produce or respond to insulin. With diabetes, sugar levels are elevated in the blood and urine. This condition contributes to water retention.
How to Get Rid of Cankles
There is not much you can do about genetics. However, there are a few cankle treatments that may help if the cause is excessive weight, swelling, or fat accumulation in the ankle area, there are solutions.
Some of the possible solutions are listed below:
Lose Weight to Reduce Cankles
If the root cause of your wide ankles is weight gain and excess fat, there is one possible solution. Incorporate lifestyle changes that promote fat reduction.
The best way to lose unwanted fat is to reduce your calorie intake while simultaneously increasing your fiber and protein intake.
Fiber and lean protein help us feel full and satisfied so that we can reduce our calories without feeling deprived and hungry. An effective way to get in more fiber is to eat nutrient-rich carbohydrates. Those include vegetables, fruits, nuts, and seeds.
Lean proteins or plant-based proteins and healthy fats are all an important part of a balanced diet too. Non-starchy vegetables are not only high in fiber but also low in calories. Eat plenty of these healthy foods as part of a balanced diet.
You may also want to focus on eating slower. Eating slowly helps you notice your hunger cues. It also often helps you feel satisfied with the portions that are right for your body.
Eating slowly helps you naturally reduce your intake to an appropriate amount without having to count calories. Counting calories can be time-consuming, mentally draining, and often inaccurate.
Empty-calorie foods, high-fat foods, ultra-processed foods, and fried foods all promote weight gain. Sugary foods and refined carbohydrates also expand your waist.
Eat these foods only occasionally to promote weight loss.
Exercise to Improve Calf Definition
Exercise is also an important part of a weight loss program. It not only helps reduce the fat deposits of the ankle area but also helps promote definition in the calf muscles. Defined calves will result in the appearance of slimmer ankles in comparison.
Try adding simple exercises and activities to your workout routine that strengthen the lower legs.
Examples of lower leg strength training exercises are walking, squats, lunges, and stair climbing. Other exercises like squat jumps jumping rope, and low box jumps also help work your calves. Calf raises are another good exercise for improving calf muscle definition.
A ballet dancer tends to have very defined calf muscles. A beginner’s ballet class is a great exercise for promoting a more defined calf muscle and a slimmer-looking ankle.
Adding physical activities into your daily routine is also helpful. For example, taking the stairs instead of the elevator or parking far away in parking lots helps you get a little more exercise as you go about your day.
If your job requires you to sit for a long time, make sure you take moving breaks.
Get up and walk around the office or do a few stretches. When you start a weight loss plan, remember to take small steps and set reasonable goals. Fad diets or crash diets may produce short-term weight loss, but the weight usually comes back on later.
Keep up the exercise and follow a balanced diet and soon you will notice more defined calf muscles.
Eat a Healthy Diet to Reduce Water Retention and Inflammation
Reduce your Sodium (Salt) Consumption: Although salt is an important part of a healthy diet, most Americans are eating too much salt. Salty foods attract water, so reducing your salt intake can reduce water retention and swelling.
You can decrease your sodium intake by removing the saltshaker from the table. Looking for lower-salt versions of your favorite foods is also effective. Fast foods also tend to have high sodium content, so limit your fast-food trips to only occasionally.
Choose whole foods more often than ultra-processed foods to avoid heavily processed foods.
According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020-2025, the general population should aim for less than 2,300 mg of sodium per day (9).
Increase Your Anti-inflammatory Food Consumpton:
This water retention can contribute to the appearance of cankles. Arthritis is a condition in which the joints become swollen and tender. Studies show that anti-inflammatories improve symptoms of arthritis, like swelling, tenderness, and pain (10, 11, 12, 13, 14).
According to a review published in Autoimmune Reviews, the Mediterranean diet, which is a diet high in anti-inflammatory foods, has been shown to reduce pain, swelling, and tenderness in patients with Rheumatoid arthritis.
According to the same review, Omega-3, which is another anti-inflammatory, has similar benefits (13).
Dark leafy greens vegetables and berries contain particularly powerful antioxidants. Natural herbs and spices like parsley, garlic, and turmeric are also anti-inflammatory.
In addition to limiting salt intake, consider limiting foods that can contribute to inflammation.
Avoid fried foods, fast foods, sugary foods, ultra-processed foods, trans fats, and refined carbohydrates. These foods can also promote the accumulation of fat stores.
Diuretics to Reduce Water Retention
Prescribed diuretics or natural diuretic supplements may provide some swelling relief. If you are suffering from excess fluids, you should schedule an appointment with your doctor.
Your doctor can advise you on treatments and medications that will help with your specific medical issues.
You should also talk with your doctor about any possible interactions your supplements might have with your specific medications or medical conditions.
Lipedema Treatment Options
Although weight loss does not reduce ankle fat in people with lipedema, healthy eating habits and exercise may help. They slow the progression of lipedema and reduce ankle swelling (2).
However, the best way to reduce lipedema and unwanted fatty tissue in the lower body is through wet-jet-assisted liposuction procedures (2).
A Liposuction procedure can actually remove the fat cells in specific areas. Liposuction treatment isn’t just a cosmetic surgery; liposuction can help ease the pain caused by Lipedema as well.
Wear Compression Socks for Better Circulation
Compression garments like compression socks can sometimes aid. They can help reduce swelling and puffiness in the ankles and feet caused by poor blood circulation.
Compression garments, such as compression socks, are designed to gently squeeze the leg. They promote better circulation in the blood vessels and reduce fluid leakage. Compression socks can also reduce the risk of blood clots.
Summary on Cankles
Cankles is a non-medical term for large ankles. You can’t change your genetic predisposition. But you may be able to reduce the cankle size if water retention or fat accumulation are the main causes of cankles.
It is a good idea to limit salt and increase anti-inflammatory consumption to help with water retention.
Schedule an appointment with your doctor if the water retention is due to a medical condition. Your doctor may prescribe blood pressure medicines if the excess fluid in the lower legs is caused by high blood pressure.
If poor circulation is an issue, compression socks may help reduce excess fluids and reduce the appearance of cankles.
Start a weight loss plan if the cankles are due to excessive weight gain or body fat. Limit calories and increase fiber and protein intake to promote weight loss.
Liposuction may help reduce cankles and leg size in people with lipedema.
Incorporate lower leg exercises that will promote more defined calf muscles. A bigger calf muscle will result in the appearance of slimmer ankles.
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