I'm Not Pregnant, So Why Do I Have Cankles?

Apr 12, 2017 at 12:00 p.m. ET
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Most women will admit to experiencing the mysterious phenomenon known as “cankles" at one time or another in their lives. If you happen to be one of the lucky ones, the “thick ankle” fairy will only visit you while you’re pregnant. But if you’re anything like me and haven't seen your ankles for quite some time, then you’re probably cursed with the dreaded cankle syndrome.

What are cankles?

While not a formal medical term or diagnosis, the word “cankle” is a slang word combining calf and ankle. It defines the part of the leg where the ankle meets the calf and when there is no definition or indentation — in other words, the calf doesn't taper down to the ankle.

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What causes cankles?

Pregnancy is usually the first thing that comes to mind when women talk about their ankles disappearing. But what many people don’t realize is that there are several other explanations for why their ankles have gone on vacation without them.

Genetic predisposition

Looks like this is one more condition we can blame on our parents, grandparents and great-grandparents. Some women just have naturally larger bones/ankle joints and thicker calf muscles, which can be blamed on our genes — something we obviously cannot change. So if you are genetically predisposed to have a straight lower leg with no shape or curve, then there may not be a whole lot you can do to change the appearance of your ankles. And if you’re already at a healthy weight, eat well, exercise regularly and keep an eye on your sodium intake, then it may be time to just embrace your cankles.

Fluid retention

If your body retains too much water, it can cause swelling in areas such as the lower calf and ankles. This gives them the appearance of fluid “pooling” in the ankles, which can be caused by poor circulation, sodium intake and pregnancy among other conditions. If this happens to be the cause of your cankles, it’s best to steer clear of sodium-rich foods (especially processed snack foods and fast food) and focus on getting plenty of fluids (water, not sodas and soft drinks) throughout the day.

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Pregnancy

Pregnancy causes your body to retain fluid, which in turn, creates the appearance of wide ankles for most women. If cankles are not something you normally deal with, this extra fluid that pools around the ankles usually resolves after the baby is born.

Weight gain

The heavier you are, the more likely cankles will appear. As you gain weight, your body increases fat stores in several areas of your body, including your legs and ankles. Cleaning up your diet, exercising and losing a few pounds may all help.

Medications

Certain medicines may also cause your legs to swell: antidepressants (including MAO inhibitors and tricyclics), blood pressure medicines called calcium channel blockers, steroids and hormones such as estrogen (found in birth control pills or hormone replacement therapy) and testosterone. Consider talking to your doctor about whether you can switch to a similar medication without the unwanted side effects.

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Do I need to worry?

Most women who deal with cankles have no reason to worry about any significant medical problem; however, if your cankles appeared over a short period of time, are progressively worsening, are painful or swollen, feel much warmer or cooler than your other skin or if the overlying skin is red, you should see your doctor. Medical conditions such as kidney disease, liver failure, heart failure, blood clots and others can all increase fluid retention, especially around the ankles.

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