Chiropractic and Leg Swelling?

Swelling of the lower leg is a common complaint among office workers who spend extended periods of time sitting.  Once the swelling becomes an issue, it can cause pain, further limiting the patient’s mobility.  In severe cases, the edema or swelling caused by excess fluid trapped in your body’s tissues, may cause peripheral neuropathy and lead to permanent nerve damage.   Resolution of the edema is contingent on the treatment and/or control of the underlying cause.

The origins of edema range from the seemingly innocent lack of movement to risky medication side effects, as well as potentially fatal cardiac disease or renal failure which.  At times it may be that multiple factors are all playing a part.

Leg edema is not something that typically causes a person to seek chiropractic care.  However, recently a case study that was published in European Society for Translational Medicine’s (EUSTM) European Journal of Molecular and Clinical Muscle explored this topic.  In this, the author provides evidence indicating that the autonomic nervous system may play a part as well and that chiropractic may help treat the condition.

In the study, a female office worker, 40 years of age, experienced “unbearable sciatic pain”.  Despite medications, her regular activities were limited due to the pain.  An orthopedic consult provided a diagnosis of discogenic sciatica.  Medications only provided temporary relief, and she experienced swelling up to her calves.  Her medical doctor suspected the medication had caused the edema and changed her to other medications.  Consultation with a cardiologist ruled out deep vein thrombosis, and other cardiac issues.

The patient decided to try chiropractic.  She sought care from Dr. Eric Chun-Pu Chu, BSc, DC, PhD(Hon), ICCSP, Chairman of the Chiropractic Doctors Association of Hong Kong.  The patient reported her pain was a 10 on a 10-point Numeric Pain Scale (NPS), and she could not lie flat on her back, even to sleep.  Therefore, she had slept in a semi-upright position.  Her feet “had turned pickish” and her legs had a bluish tint.  Certain movements caused increased pain and she had diminished sensory to the left ankle and both feet.  Additionally, she had some abnormalities in her blood work.

The patient was adjusted daily for 2 weeks.  Her pain level dropped to 3 out of 10 and she reported that she was able to sleep in bed normally.  She was also pleasantly surprised to note her leg swelling had subsided.

In her 2nd phase of treatment, focus shifted to intermittent stretching and relaxing in a therapeutic manner to focus on decompression of the spine.  This was performed three times a week for one month.

At the conclusion of the treatments, both sciatica symptoms as well as leg edema were gone.  Additionally, her blood work returned to normal.  The patient continued maintenance care on a monthly basis to prevent recurrence and experienced a “stable therapeutic effect”.

In his report, Dr. Eric Chun-Pu Chu explains that chiropractic manipulation has effects on both the autonomic nervous system as well as the sympathetic and parasympathetic nerves.  He also acknowledges that the physiology of leg edema is complex and additional research is needed.

“Peripheral lymphatic function is controlled by the autonomic nervous system, and the sympathetic activity has been shown to increase lymphatic vessel contraction and lymph flow,” says Chun-Pu Chu.  “It is reasonable to say that ease of mobility from pain relief and increased lymphatic return from sympathetic responses can help eliminating leg edema following spinal adjustment.”

While spinal adjustments are not directly responsible for blood circulation, they may help the body’s own nervous system to better communicate with various other body systems to improve overall function.

The inter-disciplinary approach taken with this case study is one of the many ways that chiropractic physicians can work hand in hand with other health care providers.  Especially in cases where an injury or illness restricts a patient’s activity, chiropractic care can often help with pain control in order to allow more movement and thereby help prevent leg edema.

If you are experiencing swelling of the legs and feet, talk to your chiropractor about it at your next visit.  Your doctor can make referrals to other health care providers, if needed.  Because inactivity is one of the causes of edema, and therefore a risk factor to more serious problems, it is important to maintain a healthy, active lifestyle.  Your doctor of chiropractic can recommend types of exercise and activities that are appropriate for your individual needs.  If you do not have a chiropractor, you can find a TCA member doctor at


Wong, John TH, Chu, Eric CP. “Case Report: Subsiding of Dependent Oedema Following Chiropractic Adjustment for Discogenic Sciatica.” European Journal of Molecular and Clinical Muscle





This article is being shared as part of TCA’s
“Realign Your Thinking” public-awareness campaign – 
helping Tennesseans understand what chiropractic care offers
and the positive role it plays in the overall health care system.