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What are ‘cankles’?

A person with what is referred to as a 'Cankle'

This term may not be one you hear much nowadays, given the ongoing drive for body positivity in the media.

However, it was often used in the past in a derogatory manner, to highlight an individual’s (usually a female’s) extra weight/obesity and, sometimes, their social class/background. Dating a girl with cankles was deemed a deal-breaker by some lads’ mags of the 1980s and 90s.

But what does it mean to have cankles? What are they?

Cankles, an amalgamation of ‘calf’ and ‘ankles’, refer to the appearance of thickened or swollen ankles that lack a distinct separation from the calf. Whilst cankles are primarily a cosmetic concern for many individuals, they can also indicate underlying health issues.

Given the negative connotations they attract, the appearance of cankles can also negatively affect people’s self-esteem and body image. This may lead to decreased confidence and psychological distress.

What causes them?

Cankles are commonly seen in individuals who have excess fat or fluid retention in the lower leg area. Several factors can contribute to the development of cankles:


Some individuals are genetically predisposed to accumulate fat or retain fluid in the lower leg area, making them more prone to developing cankles.

Weight gain and obesity

Excess weight can contribute to fat accumulation throughout the body, including the lower legs. The additional fat can obscure the natural contours and create the appearance of cankles.

Fluid retention

Certain conditions such as oedema, pregnancy, hormonal changes and certain medications can lead to fluid retention in the lower legs, causing swelling and the appearance of cankles, regardless of the individual’s weight.

Poor circulation

Reduced blood flow in the lower extremities can contribute to fluid buildup and swelling, exacerbating the appearance of cankles.

Links to poor foot health

Cankles can have implications for an individual’s foot health and overall well-being. For example, the lack of a well-defined ankle joint can lead to instability and difficulties with balance. This may increase the risk of ankle sprains and other foot-related injuries.

Cankles can also make it challenging to find properly fitting shoes, as the ankles may be wider than average. Ill-fitting shoes can cause discomfort, pain, and potentially contribute to other foot problems such as corns, calluses, or bunions.

Strategies to reduce the apparent appearance of cankles

While complete elimination of cankles may not be immediately possible, several strategies can help minimise their appearance.

Regular exercise

Biking will help reduce Cankles

Engaging in regular physical activity, particularly exercises that target the calves and ankles, can help tone the muscles and reduce the overall size of the lower leg. Activities such as calf raises, ankle rotations, and walking or jogging can be beneficial.

Healthy diet and weight management

It’s perhaps logical that maintaining a balanced diet and a healthy weight can reduce excess fat throughout the body, including the lower legs. This can help improve the appearance of cankles.

Compression garments

Wearing compression socks or stockings can provide support and help reduce swelling in the lower legs. These garments apply gentle pressure, improving blood circulation and minimising fluid retention.

Elevation and massage

Elevating the legs above heart level and gently massaging the lower legs can encourage proper blood flow, reduce swelling, and alleviate fluid retention.

Proper footwear

Wearing shoes that provide adequate support and cushioning can help improve foot health and minimise discomfort. Look for shoes with adjustable straps or wide-width options to accommodate the wider ankle area.

Consult a healthcare professional

If cankles are accompanied by pain, severe swelling, or other concerning symptoms, it’s advisable to seek medical advice. A healthcare professional can help identify any underlying conditions that may contribute to the appearance of cankles and provide appropriate treatment options.

Whilst cankles are primarily a cosmetic concern, they can indicate underlying health issues and impact the feet. Understanding the causes and potential links to poor foot health can help sufferers take proactive steps to reduce the apparent appearance of cankles.


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