What are Cankles and are They a Bad Thing?

womans feet

Tapered and slim ankles seem to be a standard if you want to have physically appealing legs. This is why most people dread having cankles. They make the legs look chunky and uneven; the fat around the ankles could also make one wonder if there’s an underlying health issue.

But what are cankles and should they be a cause of concern?

What are Cankles?

Cankles is the term for the thick area where your calf meets your ankle. The word is slang, combining the words “ankle” and “calf.”

People use this word to describe legs where the calf doesn’t dip down the ankles in a way that lacks the definition that a slimmer, more tapered ankle gives. Many people refer to cankles as a look that should be avoided as many don’t like the look of thicker ankles, especially when it’s viewed from behind or below.

Typically, a person has slimmer ankles compared to the calf. People with cankles are different because the ankle area is the same size as the calf.

What Causes Cankles

Cankles or ankles that are thicker and less defined are caused by a number of factors. The most common ones are listed below:

  • Weight Gain

Weight gain could be another reason cankles develop. This involves numerous factors as well like hormone fluctuation or pregnancy. An increase in body fat, particularly around the legs and ankles, contributes toward a heavier weight on the feet and legs.

For example, in pregnancy, extra fluid in the body and the pressure from the growing uterus could cause edema or swelling of the ankles and feet.

  • Genetics

Just like everything else in the body, the way our ankles are formed has something to do with genetics. Cankles could be caused by the fat distribution in the body or due to the bone and muscle formation.

It’s not solely the extra pounds that cause this particular problem, though. Genetics and hormones play a role in how the body distributes fat cells to different areas. 

If you’re predisposed to carrying weight in your ankles and lower legs when you gain weight, no matter where the initial deposit comes from, there will always be the possibility of developing cankles.

  • Lifestyle

Lack of exercise and poor diet can also cause cankles. There are some cases where poor diet such as eating too much red meat, sugar, and trans-fat can lead to foot pain like the inflammation of the plantar fascia, arthritis and heel spurs.

  • Medication

Medication could affect your body’s water retention and trigger swelling between the ankles and calves.

How can you avoid developing cankles?

To help prevent the development of cankles, it is best to maintain a healthy weight that won’t put excess strain on the feet and ankles. Also, taking care of one’s health prevents obesity which contributes towards cankles.

Getting ample exercise, cutting out unhealthy foods (i.e. fast food), limiting salt intake, and reducing stress are also helpful tactics in avoiding leg problems. Those who wish to lose weight should target their middle section, which includes the waistline, hips, buttocks, upper thighs, lower back and abdominal muscles.

How to Get Rid of Cankles

person wearing converse sneakers
Photo by Marcus Wallis on Unsplash

Cankles can be removed in a number of ways. If you have them because of weight gain or water retention, then they could be removed by incorporating healthy eating habits and exercise into your everyday routine.

Choose food high in fiber, protein, and green and leafy vegetables. These types of foods will help the body store less fat and stay healthy. Also, get the right amount of micronutrients such as potassium, vitamin C, vitamin B12, and calcium, to prevent vitamin deficiency and boost metabolism. 

In addition to eating healthy, you can start an exercise routine that specifically targets the leg and calf muscles.

Here are some examples of workouts you can try:

  • Walking
  • Jogging
  • Jump rope
  • Lunges
  • Yoga
  • Calf raises

Bear in mind that there will be individuals who won’t be able to slim down their cankles with just diet and exercise. People who have lipoedema (a disease-causing fat accumulation in legs, arms, or abdomen) is an example. 

Cankle Surgery

Surgical options for cankle or diseases like lipoedema include lipectomy and liposuction. Many people opt for corrective surgery if the problem couldn’t be solved by diet and exercise. The surgery requires removing excess fat or tissue that causes an enlarged appearance around the ankles.

However, you need a doctor to give you a proper diagnosis before undergoing these types of surgeries.

Cankle Exercises You Can Do Indoors

1. Exercise for balance

Increase your ankle’s mobility so that they can properly move. Balance and mobility become more difficult as we age, but with exercise, you can improve them as you grow older.

Try these leg and ankle exercises to improve your balance and ankle mobility:

  • Stand on one leg, hold the other for balance and count to 10. Do this 5 times, switching legs and adding a second as you progress.
  • Stand on your right leg. Extend your left leg and tap it in front of you, then to the left, and then tap it to the back, Repeat 10 times.
  • Stand on your left leg. Extend your right leg and tap it in front of you, then to the right, and then tap it to the back, Repeat 10 times.

2. Seated calf raise

What you need: A chair and a barbell or a sandbag. You can use any type of weight if your don’t have either.

How to:

  • Sit on the edge of the chair. Your weight should be resting across your thighs.
  • Put your feet flat on the ground, with your toes carrying most of the weight. The weight should be on top of your legs. 
  • Push your heel of the ground.
  • Hold for 5 seconds.
  • Bring your heels back down.
  • Control the motion by putting the weight on your thighs.
  • Perform 5 sets of 10 repetitions.

3. Jump rope

woman skipping at the gym
Photo by Element5 Digital on Unsplash

What you need: a jump rope

How to:

  • Make sure that your elbow is close to your body.
  • As you jump back, make sure that your heels don’t touch the ground.
  • Perform 10 sets of 30-second jump rope with 30 seconds of rest in between each set.

Are cankles a bad thing?

The most important thing for you to remember is that cankles don’t indicate that you are overweight in any dangerous way, unless they are accompanied by other problems.

Losing weight will make them less noticeable but won’t actually get rid of the fat deposits themselves. A doctor, however, may be able to help if there are health concerns with your ankles or legs.

However, there are some cases where cankles are accompanied by other problems or conditions such as iliotibial band syndrome or the inflammation on the outside of the knee, heel spurs or the spur-like growth on the heel bone, plantar fasciitis, or the inflammation on the bottom of the foot, and varicose veins.

If you’re concerned for aesthetic reasons then living with cankles means learning how to adapt to wearing shoes, pants, and bottoms that would best compliment your body type.

If you suspect that your cankles are more than just something aesthetic, see your doctor to rule out any other problems that may be related to them.

Note that cankles are often claimed to be a condition that only women have, but there are men who suffer from this medical problem as well. 

Embrace Your Ankles

If your cankles are not causing you any health issues then accept your body as it is. It’s important to exercise and eat a balanced, however, obsessing and worrying over supposed “defect” in your appearance when it’s perfectly normal could cause stress, anxiety and over obsession.

But if you’re experiencing pain or discomfort,  see a doctor to rule out any medical conditions that may be causing this.

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