Cankles - excess ankle fat and soft tissue


Understanding and Managing Cankles

What Are Cankles?

Cankles is an informal term referring to ankles that lack definition and appear swollen or merged with the calves. Rather than having a slender, sculpted contour transitioning into the lean lower legs, the ankle is indistinguishable from the calf with no clear separation. This occurs when excess fat or fluid accumulates around the ankle joint, obscuring the natural curves and indents of the ankle and lower leg. With cankles, there is an absence of delineation between the ankle and calf with no distinction in shape. The angle is rounded or swollen. In milder cases, there may only be slight puffiness or rounding rather than a complete lack of ankle definition.

What Causes Cankles?

There are a few potential contributing factors that can lead to cankle development:


Some people are simply predisposed to carrying excess fat deposits and fluid in the ankle and lower leg region due to hereditary influencing factors. The natural distribution of fat cells in the lower extremities combined with bone structure can make certain individuals prone to accentuated ankles. Lipedema, for example, is an inherited condition causing enlarged legs and indistinct ankles due to excess fatty tissue that is challenging to lose.

Health Conditions

Certain medical conditions that cause fluid retention or swelling in the ankles can cause or exacerbate the appearance of merged ankles and calves. For example, chronic venous insufficiency leads to the pooling of blood in the veins due to faulty valves. The resulting fluid buildup and inflammation can cause pronounced ankle swelling. Other conditions like lymphedema, congestive heart failure, kidney disease, and cirrhosis also provoke fluid accumulation that can obscure ankle contours.


Carrying excess body weight and fat often leads to disproportionate fat storage around the ankles and calves. Adipose tissue can “spill over” and create padding that hides the natural indentations around the ankles. The extra weight places more pressure on the veins and lymphatic system as well, resulting in fluid retention that further obscures ankle definition in those with increased body mass index. Losing weight helps, but fat distribution is also genetic.


Hormonal shifts and fluid retention throughout pregnancy commonly cause temporary swelling in the ankles and feet, potentially leading to a temporary appearance of cankles. The extra fluid volume during pregnancy impacts circulation and puts pressure on the vena cava when lying down. Salt and nutrient retention also play a role. Staying active can counteract some effects.

Dietary Habits

A diet very high in sodium, refined carbohydrates, and sugary foods may exacerbate fluid retention and inflammation throughout the body including the ankles. This can lead to swelling and puffiness that hides the ankles’ natural contours. Staying properly hydrated with water and eating potassium-rich foods as part of a balanced diet can potentially help reduce the risk and severity of cankles.

The youthful legs of a woman walking on the beach without cankles.
The youthful legs of a woman walking on the beach without cankles.

Treatment Options and Self-Care for Cankles

Treat Underlying Medical Causes

Addressing any underlying health conditions that are causing significant swelling or fluid buildup through proper diagnosis and treatment can go a long way toward minimizing or reversing the appearance of cankles. Following treatment plans for illnesses like chronic venous insufficiency, congestive heart failure, kidney disorders, or lymphedema can all help reduce swelling. Compression stockings, staying active and properly managing any medical problems all support keeping swelling and cankles in check.


Maintaining an overall healthy and active lifestyle with regular cardiovascular exercise supports metabolism, circulation, lymphatic drainage, and the reduction of excess fat that could be obscuring the ankles. Stretching the ankles and calves, massaging, keeping the legs elevated periodically, and avoiding constrictive clothing or shoes can also potentially help minimize the cankle appearance and bring down swelling. Using topical creams may temporarily tighten and smooth the skin.

Make Routine Adjustments

Being mindful of ankle health and making simple tweaks to daily routines can go a long way toward prevention and improvement. Wearing properly fitted, comfortable footwear avoids constriction of the ankles. Taking occasional breaks from prolonged standing or sitting gives ankles a rest from pressure. Sleeping with the feet slightly elevated and exposed improves nighttime circulation. Applying cool packs or taking cool showers can provide temporary relief of swelling and inflammation. Avoiding restrictive socks or jewelry helps too.

Strive for Body Positivity

The term “cankles” has sometimes carried negative body-shaming connotations about aesthetics. But it’s important to have a healthy body image and high self-esteem no matter one’s ankle shape. Treat yourself with kindness, compassion, and acceptance. Shift focus to appreciate all the incredible things your body can do. Don’t define your self-worth by society’s arbitrary standards.

When to Contact a Doctor

In some cases, significant or rapidly developing ankle swelling that doesn’t improve with self-care may warrant medical evaluation to check for an underlying condition like chronic venous insufficiency, lymphedema, lipedema, or arthritis. If swelling is accompanied by skin changes like tightness, discomfort, redness, or pain, those are also signs to seek medical advice promptly for proper diagnosis and treatment of the root cause. Don’t hesitate to reach out to a doctor for help determining next steps.

Frequently Asked Questions

What causes cankles?

Genetics, obesity, pregnancy, a sodium-rich diet, and some chronic medical conditions like heart failure or chronic venous insufficiency can cause fluid retention and fat accumulation around the ankles leading to a swollen appearance lacking definition.

Can a person treat cankles?

Yes, mild to moderate cases of cankles can often be improved through adopting healthy diet and exercise habits, wearing proper footwear, keeping legs elevated, using compression socks, massage therapy, moisturizing the skin, and addressing any underlying medical conditions. Severe longstanding cases may require liposuction or implants.

Are cankles fat or muscle?

Cankles are specifically caused by excess fat deposits around the ankles, not additional muscle mass. In fact, developing strong and defined calf muscles can actually create more noticeable delineation between the ankle and lower leg.

Cankle Prevention Tips

Making certain proactive lifestyle adjustments may help prevent pronounced indistinct ankles from developing:

  • Engage in regular moderate cardiovascular exercise to boost healthy circulation in the legs and burn excess fat deposits.
  • Follow a nutritious anti-inflammatory diet with plenty of lean proteins, fruits, and veggies, and avoid sodium and refined carbs.
  • Wear light compression socks/stockings periodically if on feet a lot to limit swelling.
  • Limit sodium intake and stay well hydrated with water to prevent fluid retention.
  • Take occasional breaks from prolonged standing and proactively elevate legs higher than heart level.
  • Apply moisturizer to keep skin supple and massage ankles/calves to stimulate drainage.
  • Address any medical conditions that could provoke swelling like heart disease or chronic venous insufficiency.

Cankle Reduction With Liposuction

For significant localized fat deposits that don’t respond sufficiently to diet and exercise alone, body-sculpting liposuction procedures can effectively refine and slim the ankles by surgically removing excess fat cells. Tiny incisions allow the doctor to insert a thin cannula to gently suction out the fatty tissue. The result is a more defined, contoured look to the ankles and calves free of puffiness, bloating, and tissue laxity. Provided weight remains stable, surgical liposuction results are permanent. Maintaining a healthy diet and exercise helps prolong results.

Cankle Reduction Procedures

For those with persistently undefined or swollen ankles who haven’t achieved the desired aesthetic improvement through conservative methods alone, there are surgical reduction techniques available:

Calf Implants

Calf implants involve making small incisions and inserting solid silicone implants carefully into the calves in order to build volume and enhance the definition between the ankles and calf muscles. This augmentation creates a more noticeable transition. Fat grafting is sometimes used too.


Removing excess ankle and lower leg fat deposits via suction-assisted lipectomy or laser-assisted liposuction can effectively sculpt and slim the area. This creates a clear distinction between the refined ankle and the calves for enhanced contour.

Lipedema Surgery

In cases of severe fat accumulation due to lipedema, specialized surgical procedures like lymph node transfer and tumescent liposuction can treat the condition. Removing the excess tissue restores shape to the ankles and eliminates painful fat.

The Benefits of Cankle Reduction

Patients seek surgical cankle reduction procedures for both functional and aesthetic reasons. Potential benefits include:

Slimmer Ankles

Removing excess fat deposits sculpts and defines a more gracefully tapered ankle shape without bulging puffiness, bloating, or bagginess. This reveals the slender ankles.

More Defined Calves

Inserting implants or reducing ankle tissue can better highlight and complement the calves. Enhanced lower leg and calf definition creates noticeable separation between the ankles and calves.

Restored Confidence

Many patients experience a surge of renewed confidence in their legs after significant improvement in the appearance of disproportionate ankles. They often feel comfortable showing off their legs again in shorts, dresses, skirts, and swimsuits.

FAQs about Cankle Procedures

What causes cankles?

Genetic predisposition, obesity, pregnancy, sodium-rich diets, and conditions like chronic venous insufficiency or lipedema can cause fluid retention and disproportionate fat accumulation in the ankles.

Who is the best candidate for cankle reduction

The best candidates have normally proportioned legs, maintain stable body weight through diet and exercise, and have excess isolated ankle fat that hasn’t responded sufficiently to conservative treatments alone. Patients should have realistic expectations.

How is the procedure performed?

Board-certified plastic surgeons carefully remove excess localized fat deposits via tiny incisions using liposuction cannulas and suction. This is done under general anesthesia or local anesthesia plus sedation as an outpatient procedure.

What is the recovery time?

Recovery is usually about 1-2 weeks of taking it easy with minimal discomfort and swelling that fully resolves after several months. Patients wear compression stockings to help facilitate healing. Most return to normal activities quite quickly.

Will there be scarring?

The tiny liposuction incisions heal into inconspicuous scars easily hidden around the inner ankles. Any surgical scars continue to fade into the natural skin folds over several months.

How long do Cankle treatment results last?

Provided weight remains stable, surgical ankle contouring results are permanent. Maintaining proper diet and exercise goes a long way towards ensuring long-lasting outcomes from cankle reduction procedures.

References for Cankles

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