Swollen, Heavy Legs, Ankles

I am currently in China teaching English for 3 weeks. The temperature is 95 C+. I am standing on my feet while teaching 6 hours per day with a 4 hour break in the afternoon. My bed room is air-conditioned and my classroom is somewhat air-conditioned. My left leg is heavy and my left ankle is very swollen. I can probably get most Chinese medicines here! Thanks for your help.

Matthew's reply: Hi, Chinese herbal medicine may well help your swollen, heavy legs and ankles but you will need to see someone face to face to know exactly what is going on. To know which medicine is best first requires a Chinese medicine diagnosis. This involves not just inquiring about your ailment but includes things like feeling the pulses on your wrists, inspecting your tongue and asking about your diet, lifestyle and other aspects of your health.

Some of the Chinese medicine doctor’s questions may seem unrelated to your problem of swollen legs and ankles but in Chinese medicine everything is related in some way. What the doctor does is gather details of all your bodily symptoms and signs and groups them together into “patterns of imbalance”. Each of your organs, when imbalanced, displays specific signs and symptoms, i.e. a specific pattern of imbalance. And more often than not there is more than one pattern of imbalance – usually there will be several.

Damp Environment as a Cause

However, I can give you some general info and advice about your problem. Your problem of swollen, heavy legs and ankles is related to what is known in Chinese medicine as “dampness”. This dampness can come from a couple of different places. Firstly, the external environment, i.e. damp weather, which can also be cold or hot. Living and working in damp environments is also an external source of dampness that can, over time, affect the body. The nature of dampness is wetness, heaviness and swelling and when the body is affected by dampness this is how it makes you look and feel – heavy, swollen and damp or wet. And because dampness is heavy it tends to sink down and affect the lower parts of the body, i.e. legs, feet, ankles.

"Damp" Foods as a Cause

The second way dampness can manifest in the body is through faulty diet. Overeating of foods and drinks which are in the “dampness generating” category in Chinese medicine. These include dairy foods, white bread, cakes, pizza, pasta, nuts, peanut butter, jams, honey and basically all junk foods and sweets.

If you often consume these kinds of things it is most likely contributing to your problem of heavy, swollen legs and ankles. Start cutting down on or avoiding altogether these foods and drinks and consuming healthier ones – white rice (which is a mild diuretic and helps to get rid of internal dampness), steamed or stir-fried veges, fruits like apples, lemons and watermelon and small amounts only of lean meat.

Drink water, fresh green vegetable juices and green tea instead of white, sugary coffee. Green tea also helps dry out internal dampness. If the place you are in is damp and hot then you’ll need to also avoid damp-hot foods and drinks like chilli, spices, overcooked meats, alcohol and white, creamy, sugary coffee. For more on healthy eating the Chinese way see my Chinese Diet Report.

From the Chinese medicine viewpoint, your problem could therefore be seen to be caused by the combination of faulty diet and living in a damp (and hot) place. Note that this is a simplified explanation of what MAY be happening in your case. There are other patterns of imbalance that could be playing a role.

See a Chinese Medicine Doctor

A Chinese medicine doctor will be able to give you more specific information after doing a Chinese medicine diagnosis. You didn't say where you are in China but I doubt you'll have trouble finding a Chinese medicine doctor. Virtually all hospitals have an herbal medicine department and many pharmacies have herbalists working in their stores.

All the best,

Matthew

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