While the term ‘cankles’ is relatively new – and apparently only applied to women’s ankles (which seems a mite unfair and inaccurate!) – we’ve all seen the celebrity beach holiday photos where calves merge thickly into ankles, and the tabloid media laugh spitefully as a result.

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Kim Kardashian has bemoaned hers during both her pregnancies – but what causes the dreaded cankle? And can anything be done about it?

What are cankles?

‘Cankles’ are not recognised as a bona fide medical condition by the NHS, but culturally, cankles refer to the unfortunate situation where a person lacks definition between their calves and ankles. Many people see it as purely a cosmetic issue – but there can be health implications.

How do cankles develop?

Cankles are often the result of…

  • Fluid retention – if your body retains too much water, it can cause swelling, as the liquid pools in certain regions, such as the ankles.
  • Obesity – weight gain is not limited to tummies and thighs: your body can also increase fat stores in other areas, such as ankles.
  • Poor circulation – this particularly affects pregnant women. Decreased mobility and natural inflammation means fuller ankles, but this often passes once the pregnancy is over
  • Genetics – sadly, if your parents have large ankles and hefty bone structures, chances are they’re to blame for your cankles.
  • Medication – Anti-depressants, blood pressure medicines and contraceptive pills have also been found to cause ankle swelling.

In rarer circumstances, cankles can be a sign of heart and kidney failure.

Swollen ankles (and increased fluid retention around the whole body) can indicate the presence of a serious problem such as kidney disease, liver and heart failure, or blood clots.

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How can they be treated?

If not a symptom of some more serious condition, the appearance of cankles can be eased through regular exercise, not sitting still for long periods, eating more fruit and vegetables (to help beat obesity) and cutting down on salt and carbs (which can increase fluid retention).

If your cankles are a purely cosmetic concern, liposuction can be an effective – if expensive – way to solve them.

How can you disguise cankles?

Of course, not all of us can afford a trip to Harley Street for a bout of liposuction. However, there are cheaper alternatives for getting svelte ankles:

  • Avoid shoes with ankle straps – they just draw attention to the problem area
  • Wear stilettos – flats and wedges can look chunky
  • Pointed shoes make legs seem slimmer – rounded toes do not, so avoid them
  • Patterned, multicoloured tights are a no-no – stick with black opaques
  • Over-the knee boots are very affective at concealing cankles
  • Calf-length skirts and cropped trousers are not advisable

If your ankles are causing you pain, always seek professional medical advice from your GP.