Socks can leave marks on a person’s legs when the elastic bands that hold them in place put pressure on the skin. Peripheral edema, or swelling in the lower legs, can make this more noticeable.

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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.

This article discusses what can cause socks to leave marks on the legs in more detail and explains when a person should contact a doctor.

Socks leaving marks on the legs is common and does not always indicate an underlying health condition.

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

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:

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

Water retention

Water retention can cause socks to leave marks on the legs.

Swelling due to water retention is generally benign. It can cause puffiness or swelling in the hands, feet, or face.

This symptom can occur when someone stands or sits for a long time. It can also happen during menstruation.

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

Learn more about water retention.


The Office on Women’s Health notes 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 sometimes after giving birth.

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

Venous insufficiency

This condition can cause swelling in the feet and ankles.

Venous insufficiency means 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.

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.

Congestive heart failure

In congestive heart failure, the heart cannot pump blood around the body properly.

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

Kidney disease

The National Kidney Foundation notes 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 cannot effectively remove sodium and water from the body.

Learn more about kidney disease.

Liver disease

Cirrhosis is the term for scarring of the liver. It can occur due to various liver conditions.

The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases notes that many people may not be aware they have cirrhosis. This is because they may not experience symptoms until the liver is severely 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 signs of liver damage.

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 notes that this is a less common symptom and can be a sign that COPD has reached an advanced stage.

Find out more about COPD.


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.

If a person has developed sock marks on their 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 results from 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 person’s condition, age, and overall health.

Learn about diuretics.

When socks leave a mark on the legs, it is often temporary and due to long periods of standing or other factors.

However, persistent or frequent swelling may indicate 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 they have other symptoms, such as high blood pressure or blurry vision.

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

There are ways a person can help prevent or lessen the effects of edema in the legs and ankles.

These 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 swelling in their legs, hands, or face should speak with a doctor.

The treatment options will depend on the cause but may include diuretics and wearing compression garments. 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.