Leg Elevation the Wrong Way: 15 Common Mistakes to Avoid

Leg Elevation the Wrong Way: 15 Common Mistakes to Avoid

Physicians have used leg elevation for centuries to treat venous problems, swelling and other health issues. This simple technique is a low-cost, reliable method to improve your leg and vein health in a multitude of ways. However, despite the simplicity of elevating your legs, there are ways to do it incorrectly—and these mistakes can diminish the effectiveness of elevating your legs. Read on to discover the 15 common leg elevation mistakes you should avoid.

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Not using a pillow of any kind.

Leg elevation is such a simple technique that it can be very tempting to just throw your legs against the wall or the couch and go...er, lie down. However, not using any kind of pillow can lead to a host of issues. For one, it’s going to be uncomfortable to lie in that position for any length of time, and the arms of the couch or the edge of the bed can actually put pressure on your calves in such a way that the blood pools in your legs, totally defeating the purpose of leg elevation. It’s also highly unlikely that you’ll be able to achieve the proper angle and position without the assistance of a pillow (more on the correct angles below).

legs resting on contoured pillow

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Using a regular pillow.

Clearly, you need to use a pillow when you elevate your legs. But a regular pillow on its own isn’t enough to properly position your legs and raise them to the correct height. Some people advocate for buying a series of regular pillows and then safety-pinning the pillowcases together so they stay in a stair-like arrangement. However, it’s a huge hassle to purchase and then assemble all the supplies, and by the time you buy everything it won’t be that much less money than getting a pillow specifically for leg elevation. In addition, the flat surfaces of a regular pillow won’t be contoured to the shape of your leg, unlike the Lounge Doctor Leg Rest, which is contoured to the shape of the leg to evenly distribute weight so it doesn’t put undue pressure on any one part of the leg.

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Not raising your legs above the heart.

Lying down and propping your feet up on a single, shallow pillow will do you some good, but it won’t help you nearly as much good as getting your feet above your heart. Gravity pulls on your blood and other fluids, pulling them down towards your feet, so your heart has to constantly work against gravity whenever you stand, sit, walk and otherwise remain upright. However, once you lie down and position the lower legs above the heart, you’ll be able to harness the power of gravity to encourage the blood to drain back towards your core, which makes the leg elevation process way more efficient and effective. This means you can get the same results in less time.

legs resting on couch arm

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Raising the thighs but not the calves.

Some specialty leg pillows don’t use a continuous gentle incline, and instead look more like an inverted V, so the thighs are raised but then the lower legs point back towards the ground. This type of pillow gets you halfway there, but halfway isn’t enough because in this position gravity is still going to pull on the fluids in your legs, causing them to pool. As a result, these tented pillows don’t do much to encourage circulation, drain fluid or give you the other benefits of leg elevation. To properly elevate your legs, your feet and calves should be slightly above the level of your thighs, not below them.

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Choosing the incorrect pillow size.

There are three sizes of the Lounge Doctor Leg Rest, based on height. The small size is intended for people shorter than 5’5”, the medium is intended for people between 5’5” and 5’10” and the large is intended for people taller than 5’10”. Because the leg rest is designed to closely contour the leg, choosing the wrong size will put pressure on your legs in the wrong places. If multiple people in your house use the Lounge Doctor and they’re all different heights—say, you’re 5’4” and your spouse is 5’11”—then you’ll need to buy two leg rests that suit each of your heights. Otherwise, you’ll be uncomfortable.

lounge doctor leg rest graphic

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Keeping the legs completely straight.

You may have seen some other brands of leg elevation pillows that feature a completely straight incline, with no bend for the knee. There’s also a good chance you have elevated your legs without bending the knee if you have ever put your feet up on a wall or the arm of a couch. However, keeping the legs completely straight puts a lot of strain on the muscles and tendons of the knee and can cause significant pain. Gently bending the knees is not only more comfortable, it’s also less likely to result in further injury.

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Bending the joints too much.

On the flip side, bending the lower body joints at too severe of an angle (as opposed to keeping them straight) can also result in pain and impede proper venous flow. To assume the correct leg elevation position, your thighs should be tilted at a less than 45-degree angle, your knees should be bent at an angle between 20 and 30 degrees and the calves should be tilted between 15 and 20 degrees to allow gravity to gently drain blood and fluid back towards the core. The Lounge Doctor Leg Rest is the only patented leg rest that uses these angles to position the legs correctly to increase blood flow in the veins.

senior man watching TV

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Twisting your back or neck.

Proper positioning of the legs is key for leg elevation—but that doesn’t mean you can ignore your upper body! Whether you lie down completely flat or prop your head and shoulders up on a regular pillow, you should make sure that your posture is straight and your spine isn’t twisted or crooked. After all, the last thing you need on top of circulation issues is neck or back pain. Once you’re lying down, you should be able to mentally draw a straight line from the top of your head to your tailbone. If you can’t do this, then you’re probably twisting your neck or back (or both).

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Lying on a couch or bed that is too short.

On the subject of not twisting your upper body, you need to lie down on a comfortable surface that will allow you to fully extend your body. (Tall people, this means no lying down on short couches, okay?) If you don’t, you’ll have to scrunch up, which can put pressure on your body around the joints and impede venous flow. Plus, lying down in a cramped position can result in stiffness, soreness and/or pain, as anyone who has fallen asleep in a chair can attest to.

fully extending your body graphic

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Only elevating the legs occasionally.

Elevating the legs does have short-term benefits, especially if you’re dealing with a sprain or other acute injury that caused rapid swelling. (That’s why RICE—rest, ice, compression and elevating the limb—is recommended for taking care of such injuries quickly!) However, you’ll see the most benefits from leg elevation if you make it part of your daily routine and do it every evening after a long day. This is especially true for those who suffer from chronic venous problems, since long-term problems require long-term solutions. As with many healthy habits such as exercise, doing leg elevation regularly over time will have the greatest positive impact.

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Not elevating the legs for long enough.

Because of the angles and contours of our patented leg support pillow, the Lounge Doctor is the most efficient way to elevate your legs in a short span of time. That being said, you should elevate your legs for at least 15-20 minutes to get the maximum benefits. If you elevate your legs for less time than that, the blood and fluids might not have a chance to drain out of your legs. If you are struggling to just lie down for 15-20 minutes in the middle of the evening, check out our tips for passing the time in the very next section.

man lying on couch reading

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Not planning ahead.

Especially for busy people, it can be difficult mentally to lie down and not move for a period of time, even if your physical body sighs in relief at the rest. If you find yourself struggling to elevate the legs for a long enough period of time—or stopping out of boredom and/or the stress of not doing something—plan an activity that you can do while lying down. Tell yourself that this time is just for you and watch TV, read a novel, work a crossword puzzle, call a friend or family member or even take a nap. If you absolutely must work, choose an activity that won’t stress you out or make your blood pressure rise, such as basic data entry.

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Wearing tight clothes.

Tight, constricting clothes can cut into your skin and impede circulation, which defeats the purpose of leg elevation (not to mention such garments are really uncomfortable to wear as well!). Put on comfortable, well-fitting, breathable clothes that give you plenty of room to move around in. Pajamas or stretchy workout clothes are a good choice. When you lie down and elevate your legs, the clothes shouldn’t pull, chafe or otherwise compress your body to ensure optimal circulation. Basically, if the clothes aren’t comfortable enough to nap in, then you shouldn’t wear them when you elevate your legs. So, take off those work pants and get cozy.

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Expecting leg elevation to undo bad habits.

Elevating your legs can result in all sorts of health benefits, including better circulation and reduced swelling in the lower body. However, it does have limits, and elevating your legs can’t undo other bad habits that affect your lower body and/or circulation, such as smoking, wearing high heels often, sitting or standing all day, never exercising, eating an unhealthy diet, etc. Elevating your legs is not a silver bullet that will fix the consequences of other bad health decisions, and this technique should be used to support a healthy lifestyle, not cure an unhealthy one.

bad habits leg elevation graphic

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Elevating your legs if you have certain medical conditions.

Leg elevation is an easy-to-use, gentle technique that can benefit people of almost any age and health status. However, there are two groups of patients who may be unable to elevate their legs due to preexisting conditions. Patients with severe Congestive Heart Failure (CHF) may experience shortness of breath while lying flat, and therefore may be unable to elevate their legs. Secondly, patients with Peripheral Arterial Disease may feel pain in their feet when their legs are elevated because the arterial blood has to push against gravity to get through the legs. Patients who suffer from either of these conditions should thoroughly discuss leg elevation with their doctor before attempting it.

Leg elevation is so simple practically anyone can do it—but even so, mistakes are still possible. Following the proper technique will result in the most comfortable, efficient leg elevation experience possible, so keep these 15 mistakes in mind whenever you elevate your legs.

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