How to Prevent Feet Swelling While Sitting at Your Desk

Written By Alecsa Stewart
Scientifically Reviewed by Daniel Chantigian

Let’s face it. We sit for too long in front of computer screens at our jobs, and then, we often sit on couches when we get home from work. Not to mention sitting in our cars or public transport! Gravity will play its role and start making it harder for blood to travel up from the lower legs, and this can lead to swelling and discomfort.

When you spend extended periods of time sitting, without taking breaks to move your legs, you increase your risk of getting swollen feet and ankles. You can start to feel uncomfortable, get tingling in your feet, and even feel very slow when you get up, like you have “heavy legs”. But luckily, there are ways to prevent these.

Read on to get our top tips and learn how to keep your feet from swelling while you’re sitting at your desk. We’ll also cover why the swelling happens in the first place and answer frequently asked questions about swollen ankles from sitting at a desk. 

How to Keep Feet from Swelling At Your Desk

The main reason why your feet and ankles swell after sitting for a long time is gravity. Your circulatory system has to work against gravity to push the blood up towards the heart, and gravity can trap some of this fluid in the legs. The accumulation of fluid in the tissues leads to edema and discomfort. Blood pooling in the lower extremities can even lead to dangerous conditions like blood clots or venous insufficiency. Here are ten tips on how to prevent swelling of your feet and ankles. 

  1. Wear Compression Socks

If your job makes you sit for long periods of time, you can boost peripheral circulation by wearing graduated compression socks, which helps reduce swelling. Because they are designed to be tighter at the ankles, compression socks stimulate blood flow upwards from the feet, ankles, and legs towards the heart.  Many research studies have found that wearing compression socks of even just 15-20mmHg will reduce swelling of your feet.

key scientific study found that compression garments (like compression socks or stockings) prevent swelling when sitting for 8 hours. The compression garments prevented edema and improved circulation.

A good pair of compression socks will also massage your lower legs to help relax the muscles and facilitate blood flow. The tight grip they provide is also supportive when you stand up and walk, which gives ankles and feet a reassuring feeling. 


Discover comfortable compression socks for all-day wear 

  1. Take Regular Movement Breaks

The more you spend without moving, the more time gravity prevents your blood from flowing smoothly, particularly in the lower legs. Exercising stimulates healthy circulation in the limbs. This doesn’t mean you need to jump on a bike or do some serious cardio in between Zoom meetings. Simply walking a little (for example, it’s great to take 5-minute breaks every 25 minutes) will help your blood circulate in your legs to limit swelling.

You can also try to mix in some standing or walking into your workday. For example, stand up when you take a call, assuming you can step away from your desk. Or, if you’re reflecting on something you’ll write next, do so while pacing around a bit. The Mayo Clinic recommends taking a break from sitting at least every 30 minutes, even if it is standing for a few minutes.

One research study found that wearing compression socks and taking breaks to stand or walk can combine to reduce swelling even more than just with moving. Another study found that wearing compression socks while walking can even reduce swelling in people with lymphedema.

Finally, stretch a little when you take a break. You can try some desk yoga or do some basic stretches that increase blood flow to the limbs and reinvigorate you for the rest of your day.

  1. The Importance of Ergonomics

One very important aspect of sedentary living and working is how well our computers and desks are set up. It’s all too easy to start working from home hunched over your laptop at your dining table. While this could be a short-term solution for your work setup, you increase your risk of developing back problems, circulation issues, and chronic discomfort.

This is where ergonomics comes in to improve posture. Advice from Wright State University tells us about the importance of aligning your knees with your hips by setting up your chair correctly, avoiding crossing your legs for the whole day, positioning the hands and wrists in a straight line with the lower arms, and more. It is equally important that the computer screen is at eye level, so we avoid straining our necks.  

  1. Stay Hydrated

While a sub-optimal desk setup can lead to repetitive strain injuries like carpal tunnel syndrome, that’s not the only thing that can create problems when your job mainly consists of sitting down. You should make sure you are hydrating appropriately because this can have a negative impact in how well blood circulates through the body. Studies like this one show that dehydration leads to significant reductions in blood flow to the muscles, which prevents good circulation throughout the body.

Additionally, when you are dehydrated, your blood has a higher concentration of sodium. This makes your blood thicker and harder to move through your blood vessels, according to the Heart Foundation. Add the gravitational pressure to this and you can see why sitting can be so bad for blood flow. The solution? Keep a water bottle within reach, sip from it regularly, and make sure you hydrate throughout the day.

Explore compression socks that keep feet warm and dry in all weather conditions

  1. Maintain a Healthy Diet & Lifestyle

Overall, good blood circulation is linked to a healthy lifestyle. Some research shows that being overweight increases your risk for developing edema. A heavier body also places more strain on the feet, which might make walking and exercising more painful. That could lead to less movement. In turn, this will make it more likely for your feet and ankles to swell as you sit down at work

Help your peripheral circulation by eating a balanced diet and ensuring proper salt intake (to avoid excess fluid retention).

  1. Use an Under Desk Footrest

Footrests can help increase comfort and may improve circulation when you sit a lot, especially when your chair doesn’t allow your feet to reach the ground and keep your knees at a 90-degree angle. You also get the benefit of varying your foot position, between resting on the footrest and on the ground. Any movement - even as small as that - can be beneficial for blood flow.

  1. Choose Comfortable Footwear

Wearing tight or non-breathable footwear at work can lead to discomfort of your feet and ankles. That pain can lead to inflammation and swelling. Chronic inflammation and swelling may even lead to the development of more serious health problems like edema or blood clots. Ensuring that your socks and shoes can keep feet pain-free will reduce these risks.

 Compression socks for optimal peripheral circulation.



  1. Try a Standing Desk

Standing desks have become more popular as studies have found that they can reduce the risk of developing high blood pressure while  also improving mood and productivity. This is another way to avoid lack of movement for prolonged periods of time - standing up and doing your work for 30 minutes allows the change of your position to help blood circulation in the lower legs. 

But be careful, standing for a long time without alternating positions or taking walking breaks can cause just as much swelling in your feet and ankles as prolonged sitting. It’s the same gravitational pressure on your circulatory system, after all. If you have a standing desk, one study recommends that you change between sitting and standing every 15-30 minutes to prevent your feet and ankles from swelling. Variety is therefore key, no matter what type of desk you use. 

  1. Do Foot and Ankle Exercises Throughout the Day

Another way to get your blood moving in the lower limbs is with some simple exercises you can do under your desk, while working.  Here are some ideas:

  • Lift your feet to go on tiptoes, then lower your heels back down
  • Rotate your ankles clockwise 5 times, then counterclockwise 5 times; you can do this one ankle at a time or both at once
  • If your workplace allows this (or at home), use a small ball to give yourself a foot massage under the desk for 5 minutes on each side

Spread these across your workday, so you’re always adding something new in and varying your foot and ankle positions. 

  1. Practice Self Leg Massage

As a recovery measure after a long day sitting down at your desk, you can massage the lower legs to boost blood flow and relax the muscles. There are lots of options for this:

  • A simple gentle rub with your hands, “kneading” the calf muscles and then relaxing the feet, ankles and toes
  • Using a massage gun on the leg muscles to release tension and boost blood flow
  • Massaging your feet with a tennis ball
  • Rolling the calf muscles with a foam roller

Why Do My Feet and Ankles Swell When I Sit at a Desk All Day?

When you sit all day for work, the lack of movement can lead to blood pooling around the ankles and to fluid building up in the tissues. This is what causes swelling and pain, also known as edema. It’s made worse in the lower limbs because of gravity. 

How Often Should I Take Breaks at My Desk Job to Prevent Ankle and Feet Swelling?

There are many ways you can add breaks into your work schedule to keep feet from swelling. Some methods suggest that the Pomodoro technique - where you work for 25 minutes and take a break for 5 minutes - is optimal for improved focus, so it’s a good way to start experimenting with more frequent breaks. 

Doctors also recommend switching your position every hour. More than that, and you’ll start feeling uncomfortable. Try out a few different schedules to see what works best for you. And remember, the breaks don’t need to be long, you can see benefits from just a 5-minute walk or a few stretches. You might notice an improvement in your energy and focus levels, too. 

When Should I Be Concerned About Swollen Feet and Ankles?

Getting swollen feet after sitting for long periods of time is normal - we’ve covered how gravity makes it harder for blood to flow naturally. You can end up with fluid pooling around the ankles and in the lower limbs. But this type of swelling will not happen suddenly and it can feel uncomfortable. It’s also important to know you’re most likely to have both feet swell equally.

However, if you experience one-sided swelling, very painful edema, or if your swelling keeps increasing and you cannot find release by walking, lying down, or wearing compression socks, then there could be a different reason for your situation. Speak to a medical professional and they will recommend relevant tests to see what you need to do next. 


Quilici Belczak, C. E., Pereira de Godoy, J. M., Seidel, A. C., Belczak, S., Neves Ramos, R., & Caffaro, R. A. (2018). Comparison of 15-20 mmHg versus 20-30 mmHg Compression Stockings in Reducing Occupational Oedema in Standing and Seated Healthy Individuals. International journal of vascular medicine, 2018, 2053985. Read it here.

Kurosawa, Y., Nirengi, S., Tabata, I., Isaka, T., Clark, J. F., & Hamaoka, T. (2022). Effects of Prolonged Sitting with or without Elastic Garments on Limb Volume, Arterial Blood Flow, and Muscle Oxygenation. Medicine and science in sports and exercise, 54(3), 399–407. Read it here.

Barufi, S., Pereira de Godoy, H. J., Pereira de Godoy, J. M., & Guerreiro Godoy, M. F. (2021). Exercising and Compression Mechanism in the Treatment of Lymphedema. Cureus, 13(7), e16121. Read it here.

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(2015). Are You Sitting All Wrong? Find Out Here. Wright State University. Read it here.

Antle, D. M., Cormier, L., Findlay, M., Miller, L. L., & Côté, J. N. (2018). Lower limb blood flow and mean arterial pressure during standing and seated work: Implications for workplace posture recommendations. Preventive medicine reports, 10, 117–122. Read it here.

González-Alonso, J., Calbet, J. A., & Nielsen, B. (1998). Muscle blood flow is reduced with dehydration during prolonged exercise in humans. The Journal of physiology, 513 ( Pt 3)(Pt 3), 895–905. Read it here.

Newman, A., Keeley, V., Pinnington, L., Green, C., Riches, K., Franks, P. J., Idris, I., & Moffatt, C. J. (2021). Prevalence and Impact of Chronic Edema in Bariatric Patients: A LIMPRINT Study. Lymphatic research and biology, 19(5), 431–441. Read it here

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