Many individuals are insecure about the excess fat surrounding their calves and ankles, often referred to as cankles. This article will discuss what cankles are and how to get rid of them.
What are cankles?
Cankles is not a standard medical term. Instead, it is a slang word that combines the terms “calf” and “ankle.” Cankle refers to the lack of definition between the ankle and calf. Where usually there is a thinning of the calf as it reaches the ankle, someone with “cankles” will have more fat around this area.
Cankles are not usually a health concern. However, some individuals may not enjoy the look of cankles, causing them to want to fix the appearance of their lower legs and feet.
What do cankles look like?
With someone who has cankles, the transition between the calf to the foot is indistinguishable. This shape is due to excessive fat or swelling in this area, leading to a poorly defined ankle. Some individuals may be self-conscious about the appearance of this area.
What causes cankles?
There are several reasons why cankles can occur. These include genetics, weight gain, or medications.
Cankles are commonly caused by excess fat due to weight gain in the ankles. As you gain weight, the amount of fat stored in your legs increases. The fat in your legs is pulled down by gravity, causing the appearance of cankles.
As aforementioned, excess fat can cause cankles. But how and where we gain fat is primarily dictated by our genetics. Several genes can increase your likelihood of being overweight or obese. Experts have identified greater than 400 genes that influence weight gain, but only a few of these are significant determinants.
How your genetics influence your weight will vary from other people. Likewise, genetics can account for anywhere between 25 to 80 percent of your predisposition to being overweight, depending on the person1. Genetics influence various factors implicated in weight, such as feelings of fullness, appetite, food cravings, metabolism, the tendency to use food as a coping mechanism for stress, and body-fat distribution.
The link between body-fat distribution and genetics is essential to understanding how your DNA influences cankles. One study found that 13 gene sites in our bodies affect fat distribution. Therefore, your susceptibility to cankles may be coded in your DNA. While you may gain weight in your calf and ankle region, others may gain weight elsewhere2.
Fluid retention and medications
Swelling in the ankles and elsewhere is often due to fluid retention. The scientific term for fluid retention is edema. Edema usually occurs in the legs and can distort the shape of the limb, sometimes creating the look of cankles.
If you have swelling in your tissues for greater than three months, this is known as chronic edema. Chronic edema occurs more commonly in obese individuals, women, and those over 65. Edema is often caused by medications3.
Medicine can cause or worsen swelling and thus the appearance of cankles. Medications that most frequently cause edema include:
- Calcium channel blockers (e.g., amlodipine and felodipine)
- Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) (e.g., ibuprofen)
- Corticosteroids (e.g., prednisone, methylprednisolone, and dexamethasone)
- Sex hormones and similar medicines (e.g., anti-estrogens and aromatase inhibitors)3
Pregnancy can also cause the appearance of cankles due to weight gain and fluid retention. During pregnancy, your body naturally holds on to more water. Fluid retention can cause swelling throughout your body, often in the fingers, feet, and ankles.
As the day progresses, water accumulates in the lower areas of the body. Swelling can be exacerbated by hot weather or standing for long periods. Additionally, the weight of the growing womb provides added pressure, affecting the blood flow in and to your legs. Likewise, you may experience fluid accumulation in your feet, ankles, and legs.
It is important to note that sudden swelling can signify pre-eclampsia, a pregnancy complication that requires medical attention4.
How to get rid of cankles?
Depending on the cause of your cankles, there are several ways to change the appearance of your cankles.
Exercise and changing your diet
Having healthier eating habits and regular physical activity can help you lose weight, thus slimming down your figure. In terms of diet, eat lean proteins and leafy green vegetables to promote overall health and store less fat. Avoid overly processed foods, added sugars, and fried foods that could contribute to weight gain.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that adults engage in 150 minutes of moderate to intense exercise weekly. If you want to lose a significant amount of weight, you may want to work out longer or engage in more intense activity. Additionally, specific exercises can target your leg and calf muscles, such as calf raises5.
If you experience chronic edema, you may be a candidate for medication therapy. The following drugs can be used to treat fluid retention:
For those looking to slim down their cankles but have had little success with diet and exercise, liposuction is an option. Liposuction involves removing excess fat via a procedure. In cankle liposuction, a provider removes fat where the calf meets the ankle, providing a more defined look6.
When to see a doctor?
If you have swelling in your calves and ankles, seek immediate care from a doctor if you experience any of the following symptoms:
- Difficulty breathing
- Chest pain
- Coughing up blood
- Red or warm skin
These symptoms may indicate conditions such as a blood clot or skin infection. Additionally, see your doctor if your symptoms do not resolve on their own.
Get help from an online doctor
An online doctor provides medical advice instantly without needing an office visit. DrHouse has several providers available for online doctors visits within 15 minutes. Additionally, DrHouse offers same-day in-person online doctor appointments through the app.
Key points to remember about cankles include:
- They can be caused by weight gain, genetics, fluid retention, medication, or pregnancy.
- Cankles can be managed by diet, exercise, medication, or liposuction.
- 1. CDC. (2022, June 3). Factors in weight gain. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/healthyweight/calories/other_factors.html
- 2. Genetics of obesity and fat distribution: Apple and pear shapes partly due to genes. (n.d.). ScienceDaily. Retrieved June 28, 2022, from https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/10/101010133620.htm
- 3. Raymond, R., & Flanagan, M. (n.d.). Chronic oedema: Treatment and the impact of prescribed medicines. The Pharmaceutical Journal. Retrieved June 28, 2022, from https://pharmaceutical-journal.com/article/ld/chronic-oedema-treatment-and-the-impact-of-prescribed-medicines
- 4. Swollen ankles, feet and fingers in pregnancy. (2020, December 3). Nhs.Uk. https://www.nhs.uk/pregnancy/related-conditions/common-symptoms/swollen-ankles-feet-and-fingers/
- 5. CDC. (2022, June 2). Move more; sit less. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/basics/adults/index.htm
- 6. Advanced lipedema treatment. (n.d.). Retrieved June 28, 2022, from https://www.advancedlipedematreatment.com/blog/what-are-cankles-and-how-do-you-treat-them