Socks can leave marks on a person’s legs when the elastic bands that hold the socks in place put pressure on the skin. Pressure marks are generally more noticeable when a person has peripheral edema, or swelling, in the lower legs.

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The swelling may be mild and go away on its own, or it may be due to an underlying medical condition and be more persistent.

In this article, we discuss what can cause socks to leave marks on the legs and explain when a person should contact a doctor.

Socks leaving marks on the legs is common, and most of the time, it is not a sign of an underlying health condition.

Socks marks can occur as a result of peripheral edema. Edema is swelling that occurs in the body. Peripheral refers to swelling that happens in the outer extremities, such as the legs and arms.

According to a 2016 article, benign factors — such as pregnancy, standing for long periods, or flying on an airplane — may cause temporary peripheral edema. However, it can sometimes be a sign of a medical condition, such as heart failure, trauma, renal failure, or liver failure.

Sock marks can appear on the legs due to a variety of causes, which range in severity.

Water retention

Water retention can cause a person’s socks to leave marks on their legs.

Swelling that is the result of water retention is generally benign. It can cause general puffiness or swelling in the hands, feet, or face.

This symptom can occur when a person has been standing or sitting for too long. It can also happen during menstruation.

A person does not typically need to seek treatment for water retention because it will go away on its own.

Learn more about water retention here.

During pregnancy

The Office on Women’s Health note that while some swelling is common in pregnancy, it can sometimes be a sign of preeclampsia. Preeclampsia is a condition that causes high blood pressure during pregnancy and after a person has given birth.

A person who is pregnant and experiencing swelling should talk with their doctor.

Learn more about preeclampsia here.

Venous insufficiency

This condition can cause swelling in the feet and ankles.

Venous insufficiency means that the veins have difficulty transporting the blood to the feet and back to the heart. As a result, the blood collects in the legs, forcing fluid out of the blood vessels and into the surrounding tissues.

Venous insufficiency is the most common cause of peripheral edema in those over the age of 50 years.

Learn more about venous insufficiency here.

Varicose veins

Varicose veins are veins that are swollen and enlarged. They typically occur on the feet and legs.

According to the United Kingdom’s National Health Service (NHS), other symptoms include:

  • swollen ankles and feet
  • burning and throbbing in the legs
  • legs that ache or feel heavy
  • muscle cramps in the legs, especially during sleep
  • dry and itchy skin over the vein

Learn more about varicose veins here.

Congestive heart failure

Congestive heart failure is a condition in which the heart is unable to pump blood around the body properly.

As a result, the blood flow out of the heart slows down, and blood accumulates in the veins. This buildup causes fluid to seep into the surrounding tissue, which causes swelling.

The swelling can affect the legs and abdomen.

Other symptoms include:

  • shortness of breath
  • fatigue
  • swollen legs and ankles

Learn more about congestive heart failure here.

Kidney disease

The National Kidney Foundation note that more than 37 million people in the United States have kidney disease, with many of them being unaware.

Kidney disease can cause a person to experience swelling in the legs and around the eyes.

This swelling occurs because the kidneys are unable to remove sodium and water from the body effectively.

Learn more about chronic kidney disease here.

Liver disease

Cirrhosis is the term for scarring of the liver. It can occur as a result of various liver conditions.

The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases note that many people may not be aware that they have cirrhosis. The reason for this is that they may not experience symptoms until the liver is badly damaged.

Those who do have early symptoms may experience:

  • fatigue
  • weakness
  • low appetite
  • unexplained weight loss
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • mild discomfort or pain in the upper right side of the abdomen

As liver function worsens, a person can experience swelling in the lower legs, ankles, and feet.

Learn more about cirrhosis here.

Lung conditions

Lung conditions, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), can cause a person to experience swelling in the legs and feet. This symptom can occur when the pressure in the lungs and heart becomes very high.

However, the NHS note that this is a less common symptom and that it can be a sign that COPD has reached an advanced stage.

Learn more about COPD here.


Lymphedema is a chronic condition that occurs when the lymphatic system becomes damaged. Healthcare professionals can recognize the condition due to the collection of lymphatic fluid in the body.

Swelling can occur anywhere, but it mostly affects the:

  • legs
  • arms
  • genitals
  • face
  • neck
  • oral cavity
  • chest wall

Learn more about lymphedema here.

If a person has developed sock marks on the legs due to water retention, they can try the following:

  • lying down or sleeping with the feet raised on a pillow
  • massaging the feet, ankles, or legs
  • engaging in gentle exercise
  • avoiding wearing tight socks, shoes, or clothes
  • wearing compression stockings

When peripheral edema is the result of an underlying medical condition, a person will need to work with a doctor to treat the condition.

Diuretics can treat some of the conditions responsible for edema, such as congestive heart failure, kidney disease, and liver disease.

Specific therapies will vary depending on the condition affecting a person and their age and overall health.

When socks leave a mark on the legs, this may not be a sign of any major medical condition. It can sometimes occur due to standing for long periods, pregnancy, or flying in an airplane.

However, persistent or frequent swelling may be a sign of an underlying condition.

A person should speak with a doctor if swelling in the feet, hands, or other areas of the body occurs regularly.

They should also seek medical advice if other symptoms accompany the swelling, such as high blood pressure or blurry vision.

A doctor can determine the cause of the swelling and recommend a suitable treatment plan.

A person can take steps to help prevent or lessen the effects of edema in the legs and ankles.

These steps include:

  • limiting sodium in the diet
  • raising the feet on a stool
  • avoiding tight-fitting clothing
  • exercising regularly, if a doctor advises this
  • taking medications according to the label or prescription

When socks leave an indentation, it is typically the result of peripheral edema. Several benign causes are possible, such as standing for long periods.

However, edema can sometimes result from an underlying health condition, such as renal or heart failure.

Anyone who experiences frequent or persistent swelling in their legs, hands, or face should speak with a doctor.

The treatment options will depend on the cause, but they may include diuretics and compression therapies. A person can take steps to reduce the risk of swelling, such as reducing sodium in their diet, keeping their feet up, and adhering to treatments for other conditions.