Discovering you may have edema, thanks to worrisome indentations in your skin caused by socks, is pretty unnerving.

That’s because edema can be caused by problems with the heart or kidneys.

Edema can also be caused by:

Vein damage

Cirrhosis of the liver

Impaired lymphatic system

Pelvic tumor

Indentations in your skin that are caused by socks can be quite intricate, taking on the exact pattern of the socks, right down to the last detail – as though your skin is putty.

But indentations in the skin from socks (or around your waist from pants or panties) do not always mean a pathological cause of edema.

“Sock or any indentations for that matter occur when pressure displaces fluid in the underlying tissue,” says Jenepher Piper, a family practice nurse practitioner for Maryland Family Care for 25+ years and a former nurse with Home Care Nurse for Johns Hopkins Home Care.

Piper continues, “This could just be because socks are too tight or because the person has been standing or sitting too long, particularly in the older and obese populations, but also in thin individuals.

“As long as the sock indentations resolve with rest and are not persistent, there should be little concern for an underlying heart or kidney issue.”

Are you still worried about those nasty looking sock indentations?

Here are some things you can do to resolve your fear, based on my own experience.

Viewing Foot Veins and Natural Indents

If you can see veins in your feet and about the ankles, this is a good sign, because true edema obscures these.

Visible veins: reassurance. Source: Ioana Davies, 

I checked my veins every day, imprinting in my head what they look like.

It was reassuring that every day they looked the same: prominent, no “fading.”

Note your foot’s natural grooves and indents. If you’re overweight they will be less visible.

The more I inspected all these features, the less my “edema” looked serious.

I had skinny ankles with prominent veins coursing through them, plus deep grooves amid the soft tissue.

And this meant that the “edema” was apparently only in the vicinity of the sock line – which is not how lower leg edema typically presents.

It can be scary if you see deep impressions from the socks but don’t have any lifestyle habits that cause edema such as excessive sitting, lack of exercise and a high sodium diet.

Premenstrual syndrome and side effects of drugs are two more non-serious causes of edema.

So if none of these apply to you, as they did not apply to me, the sock impressions can be alarming.

Indents made by fingers in a person with serious disease. Shutterstock/Zay Nyi Nyi

Avoid Obsessive Pitting Checks

I found myself repeatedly checking for pitting (prolonged impressions left after pressing a fingertip into the skin). I also used the tip of a felt pen.

Pitting will occur! It’s SKIN you’re pressing, not concrete; of COURSE there will be an indent left!

In normal skin the indent will disappear rapidly, in several seconds.

In “pitting edema” caused by a kidney, liver or heart problem (see image above), the impression will persist for at least a minute.

Stop repeatedly jamming fingertips and hard blunt tips like the ends of felt pens into your skin. I eventually got tired of this and quit cold turkey.

Look at Other People’s Legs

It will help to find sock indents in other people, but it depends where you find these people.

If you find them at a gym, this will be more reassuring because you know they work out.

I never checked other people’s calves before for this, but once I began doing it, I realized just how COMMON harmless sock indentations really are.

So many 20-something people at the gym have these!

They are most noticeable in people who remove their socks and put on peds (ankle booties) for their workouts.

The sock impressions remain! I kept seeing this over and over.

So I began thinking, Gee, all these 20-somethings who work out can’t possibly have a heart or kidney problem!

Do Indent Tests on Other Parts of Your Body

Who gets edema in their wrists? Yet I began noticing impressions left by the rubber bands I’d wrap around my wrists. I have rather thin, veiny wrists.

I’d use the rubber bands at the gym to hold tinfoil around my protein drink top, and when done, wrap them around my wrists to take home and reuse.

At home upon removing them I saw the prominent indents.

Yet the skin was not puffy, smooth or edematous-looking.

I did impression tests on my face, too; lots of skin indents (that of course, quickly disappeared).

Stop wearing tight socks to minimize the indentations.

Time passage will also be reassuring, especially if you’ve all along been doing intense exercise and eating healthy, and have no concerning symptoms like chest pain, shortness of breath, new-onset fatigue and coughing.

Nurse Piper
Patients suffering from conditions such as coronary artery disease, obesity and diabetes turn to Nurse Practitioner Piper to help them best manage their overall health.
Lorra Garrick has been covering medical, fitness and cybersecurity topics for many years, having written thousands of articles for print magazines and websites, including as a ghostwriter. She’s also a former ACE-certified personal trainer.  

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