What are Cankles?

“Cankles” is a slang term that blends the words “calf” and “ankle.” The less-than-flattering word describes a condition in which the calf and ankle look as though they merge together. In a “normal” ankle, the bottom of the calf thins before extending down into the ankle. If someone has cankles, this thinning is not present or is reduced, making the calf and ankle look as though they are one unit.

Although in some cases they can be caused by water retention, cankles are a normal anatomical variation found in many people and are not necessarily cause for concern. People often want to get rid of their cankles for cosmetic reasons, but their existence alone is not really a problem or illness. The exception to this rule is if cankles are caused by fluid retention, which is sometimes a side effect of health issues.

What Causes Cankles?

There are several potential reasons for cankles, and it’s good to try and narrow down the cause if you have them. They’re very difficult to get rid of, and it’s helpful to know if you’re fighting genetics or other battles you may not win without help. Speaking of genetics, they do play an important role in whether you have cankles. Genetics may predispose you to a certain body shape or help govern where your body stores fat, which can be in your ankles.

Carrying excess body weight can also lead to cankles. Your body has to store fat cells somewhere and it can put them almost anywhere, including your ankles. Sometimes it’s not excess fat that causes cankles but excess fluid.

Swelling due to fluid retention (edema) can cause the ankles to appear larger and less defined. This can be related to various factors, including high salt intake, standing or sitting for prolonged periods, pregnancy, or the side effects of certain medications. Certain medical conditions can also cause fluid retention, including kidney disease, liver cirrhosis, congestive heart failure, and high blood pressure (hypertension). Hormonal changes may also be a factor.

Natural, Non-Surgical Solutions for Cankles

Cankles are tough to get rid of naturally, but it can be done and is worth trying. The first step is to try improving your diet. A healthier diet overall can help you lose weight, and this may help reduce the size of your ankles. You can’t control where you lose weight from, however, so there is no guarantee that losing weight will equate to smaller ankles.

Exercise helps as well. You can do exercises that specifically target your calves and ankles, but a general cardio workout is a great place to start. Like a good diet, cardio helps you lose weight overall and can lead to weight loss in the ankles. Unfortunately, however, there is still no guarantee that your ankles will be the thing that gets smaller.
Wearing compression socks can also help. They may not be the most stylish footwear, but compression socks can reduce swelling and improve the circulation in your legs.

Elevating your legs can also help. Try raising your legs whenever you can by sitting in a recliner or sleeping in an adjustable bed if you can. If that’s not an option, stack a few pillows under your legs to raise them.

Although they aren’t all that effective according to science, some people swear by calf and ankle massages to reduce swelling. This may not help, but it certainly won’t hurt and likely feels quite nice.

Best Diet Changes to Reduce Cankles

If you want to eat your way out of cankles, there are some very specific dietary changes you need to make. The first is to decrease your salt intake. High sodium levels cause the body to retain water, leading to swelling in the ankles. While you reduce your salt intake, increase the amount of potassium in your diet. Potassium balances sodium levels in the body and can aid in reducing water retention. Foods high in potassium include bananas, oranges, tomatoes, spinach, sweet potatoes, and beans.

Although it might seem counterintuitive, drinking more water can actually help reduce water retention. Staying well-hydrated improves kidney function, helping to flush out excess sodium and water. Choosing foods with natural diuretic properties is also helpful as they help your body get rid of excess fluid. Examples include cucumber, celery, watermelon, asparagus, and pineapple.

Of course, you should also reduce your saturated fat intake. Too much saturated fat can add pounds to your frame, which is something you want to avoid when fighting cankles. Staying away from processed foods and fast food are great first steps to lowering your saturated fat intake.

Best Exercises to Reduce Cankles

There are only a handful of exercises that target the ankles, like ankle rolls and flexions. But calf exercises may help with cankles. A more defined calf muscle will add visual separation between the calf and the ankle. Some good calf exercises include:

  • Weighted calf raises
  • Seated calf raises
  • Stair calf raises
  • Lunge calf raises
  • Reverse calf raises
  • Raised heel squats
  • Jumping rope
  • Running
  • Bicycling

Remember to do your cardio as well. Cardio helps you burn more calories overall when you exercise and when you’re at rest. Burning more calories and losing weight may help to reduce the size of your ankles if your body is storing fat there.

When to Consider Surgical Solutions for Cankles

We applaud nonsurgical attempts to resolve cankles, but we also acknowledge that they’re often unsuccessful. There is no way to target dietary changes to specifically improve the look or shape of the ankles. Exercise can help, but factors outside your control like genetic or medical conditions may impede your progress. If natural methods of getting rid of cankles aren’t working, it’s time to consult a qualified plastic surgeon.

Surgical Options to Get Rid of Cankles Once and For All

The fastest and most effective way to get rid of cankles is to have liposuction on your ankles. You now have the option of undergoing traditional liposuction during which you are asleep or awake liposuction. Awake liposuction uses a local anesthetic to numb the area so that you can avoid going under general anesthesia if you prefer. The procedure itself is the same for both options, but awake liposuction allows you to skip time in the recovery room after your surgery while you come out of anesthesia. Although awake liposuction is a bit faster and avoids the potential dangers of general anesthesia, some patients still prefer the idea of being asleep for surgery.

Whichever option you choose, your surgeon will make small, discreet incisions around your ankles and use a special tool called a cannula to remove excess fat from your ankles, sculpting and shaping them as they work. Because your ankles are such a small and targeted area, your surgeon may use a special, smaller cannula to remove the fat. When your surgeon achieves the desired shape, they will close your incisions and your surgery will be finished.

After surgery you will experience bruising and swelling and may have some discomfort. Your surgeon will provide prescription pain medication to help you manage this discomfort which will ease a bit every day. Patients are typically advised to wear compression garments for several weeks after liposuction. In the case of ankle liposuction, this usually means compression socks.

Your swelling and bruising will gradually subside over the first few weeks. Elevating your legs can help reduce the swelling. You will also be encouraged to walk and move around as soon as it’s comfortable to promote blood circulation and reduce the risk of blood clots. Walking is usually encouraged starting the day after surgery. Most people return to work in about a week, but expect your activities to be somewhat restricted for at least six weeks.

Ankle liposuction results are considered permanent as long as you maintain a healthy weight.

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