What Are the Health Benefits of Elevating Legs?

Medically Reviewed By Angelica Balingit, MD

The benefits of elevating your legs after a long day include decreasing swelling, relieving pressure, and improving blood flow. Read on to learn about the health benefits of elevating your legs, the conditions it can help, and best practices for elevating your legs.

What are the health benefits of elevating legs?

Woman doing yoga with raised legs
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There are some health benefits to elevating your legs after a long day. If you have been advised by a healthcare professional to elevate your legs, doing so may significantly improve a health condition you have.

There are three main ways in which elevating your legs can benefit your health. 

Decrease swelling

Because of gravity, fluid can accumulate in your legs as you go about your day walking around or sitting upright. This excess fluid is known as edema, and some health conditions can cause this to occur.

By elevating your legs above the level of your heart, you can use gravity to your advantage and drain away this excess fluid. 

Learn more about leg swelling.

Relieve pressure

In the same way that elevating your legs can reduce swelling, leg elevation may also help lower the pressure in your legs from standing or sitting for long periods. It may decrease pressure in your legs by draining away the pooled fluid in your veins. 

Elevating your legs can help take pressure off your feet as well. This is why it can feel good to put your feet up after a long day of standing.

Encourage better blood flow

Your veins help carry blood back to your heart, while arteries send blood out to your body. Arteries have smooth muscle in them, which helps them pump oxygenated blood from the heart to the body.

Veins have valves and thin walls, and the return of blood to the heart to be reoxygenated is a passive process. The pressure in your veins is much lower than the pressure in your arteries. 

As your veins need to work against gravity to return blood to the heart, standing or sitting makes it more difficult for blood to leave your legs and travel up to the heart.

Your body can manage these functions, but in some circumstances, it has a harder time with circulation – if you have varicose veins, for example. Elevating your legs can make this process easier on your body and might improve blood flow in your legs. 

Learn about circulation symptoms.

Which conditions can elevating legs help?

Your doctor may recommend elevating your legs to improve certain health conditions.

Pregnancy

There are several reasons why you might experience swelling in your legs and feet during pregnancy, including:

  • hormone changes
  • fluid retention
  • pressure from the uterus as it increases in size

Your doctor may recommend putting your legs up to help with this swelling. 

Vein conditions

You can develop certain vein conditions if you sit or stand for long periods of time. 

Varicose veins are a common condition that may be helped by elevating your legs. Varicose veins occur when blood backs up in your veins, causing them to twist and swell. Elevating your legs may help reduce this swelling.

Learn more about varicose veins.

Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) is when a blood clot forms in the deeper veins of your legs. Sometimes Trusted Source Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Governmental authority Go to source , the blood clot can break off and travel to your lungs.

Learn more about DVT.

When a blood clot forms underneath your skin instead of in the deeper veins, the condition is known as superficial thrombophlebitis. This condition has similar symptoms to a DVT but is less dangerous as it is much harder for the clot to move to the lungs.

Elevating your legs may help relieve pain from blood circulation disorders. However, there is no scientific evidence that leg elevation can directly treat venous conditions.

It is always important to tell your doctor about any symptoms of a blood clot in case it is a DVT, as complications of DVT can be life threatening.

Injury

If you hurt your leg, just as in any other injury to the body, the area tends to become swollen and painful Trusted Source National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases Governmental authority Go to source . One way to alleviate these symptoms is to elevate your leg to decrease the swelling.

Post-op recovery

Swelling after surgery on your lower extremities is common. Leg elevation may help to decrease this swelling.

Your doctor may also advise elevating your legs after surgery on the leg to prevent a DVT since this can be a complication. 

Lymphedema

Lymphedema is a condition in which fluid builds up in the fatty tissue under your skin. This can cause swelling and pain.

Leg elevation can help reduce swelling in earlier stages Trusted Source American Cancer Society Highly respected international organization Go to source . If lymphedema becomes more severe, elevating your legs tends not to help as much.

It is therefore important to contact your doctor as soon as you have concerns about lymphedema so that they can advise on treatments that may help.

Learn more about lymphedema.

Best practices

Elevating your legs may generally be straightforward, but some things may increase your chances of injury or a worsening of your symptoms.

Here are some best practices to make sure you can practice leg elevation as safely as possible. It is important to first contact your doctor for advice on how best to treat your specific condition.

Make sure you have enough support

If you put your legs up on a hard surface such as a table, you can cause pain, bruising, or nerve damage to the area. Doing this can also further affect blood flow due to increased pressure.

Use a supportive pillow to give your legs some cushion. Build up the pillows until you are able to elevate your legs above your heart.

Do not forget to also support your back if you are sitting so that you do not injure other areas of your body. 

Slightly bend your legs

Make sure your legs have a slight bend in them and are not completely straight. This will help to avoid strain on your tendons and leg muscles.

Elevate your whole legs

Make sure you elevate your whole legs. Your calves and feet should also be raised up.

If your calves point toward the ground, blood can still pool, and this may not help to alleviate swelling

Elevate for long enough

In order to get the full benefits of leg elevation, make sure you elevate your legs for long enough. For varicose veins, for example, you may need to elevate your legs for 15 minutes at a time, 3–4 times a day.

Your doctor will be able to recommend how frequently and for how long you should elevate your legs.

Summary

Elevating your legs can decrease swelling, relieve pressure, and give your legs better blood flow. It can help manage several health conditions. It may also be suitable for treating or preventing certain vein conditions, and recovering after an injury or surgery. 

You will need to make sure your back and legs are supported and that you have a gentle bend in your knees. Leg elevation is not right for everyone, so contact your doctor for advice before you begin. 

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Medical Reviewer: Angelica Balingit, MD
Last Review Date: 2023 Jan 31
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