Poor circulation isn’t a condition on its own, but can result from various conditions such as diabetes and vascular disease. ‘Peripheral vascular disease‘ is the medical term given to the group of conditions that causes poor circulation to the feet and legs. Poor circulation can have significant impacts on the foot and lower limb and put them at substantial risk for complications.
What are the signs of poor circulation?
The signs and symptoms that are experienced when you have poor circulation can vary depending on which artery is affected and just how much the blood flow is reduced. Some of the symptoms include a claudication, which is a dull cramping pain in the calf muscle that comes on after walking a certain distance – it is relieved by rest; numbness or a tingling in the foot, or toes can occur; changes in the colour of the skin (it can become more pale, bluish, or reddish); changes in skin temperature (the foot becomes cooler); skin breakdowns such as infection and sores do not heal as well as they should.
Cold feet are not automatically a sign of poor circulation. Those with poorer circulation do tend to have colder feet, but there are plenty of people with really good circulation that have naturally cold feet.
What are the causes of poor circulation?
Poor circulation in the feet and legs is most commonly caused by a progressive blocking of the arteries in the leg by atherosclerosis. Those with a history of diabetes are more likely to develop poor circulation to the foot. Other risk factors for developing poor circulation include a lack of physical activity, obesity, cigarette smoking, high blood pressure and a high cholesterol.
What can be done about poor circulation?
Poor circulation can be treated by your doctor or a vascular surgeon in a number of ways which include good control of the blood glucose level if you have diabetes; loosing weight and addressing the risk factors such as lack of physical exercise; high blood pressure; smoking; and high cholesterol levels – they all need to be addressed.
Drugs can be used to prevent the blood clotting and leading to problems. If the circulation is particularly bad, then an angioplasty can be used to enlarge the narrowed peripheral arteries. A vein from another part of the body can be used to bypass the narrow or blocked artery can be used by the vascular surgeon if indicated.
Care of the feet when you have poor circulation
The biggest impact of poor circulation on the feet, is that its when problems such as sores, infections, cuts, etc develop, they do not heal as well as they should due to the poor supply of nutrients and other healing factors in the blood. In many cases they do not heal at all without special care. The reason for this is that the blood carries vital elements (eg oxygen) that the bodies tissues need for vitality and healing and in those with poor circulation, that is lacking.
As the healing from skin breakdowns, sores and cuts on the foot is poor due to the poor circulation and those with the problem need to take extra special care to prevent problems from developing as well as care of any problems that develop. This special care can include:
- Preventing trauma and accidents (eg wearing footwear to prevent trauma). Also be aware of potential accidents around the home.
- Wearing footwear that is well fitted and not causing any pressure areas that can lead to things like corns, blisters or plantar callus.
- Seeking professional help from a podiatrist for the cutting of the toe nails. There is a high risk that any accidents from self care here may prove to be costly.
- Corns and calluses and other problems need to be treated. If these types of problems are allowed to progress the skin may break down and sores may develop beneath them and prove difficult to heal. They can be a portal for a serious infection to get in.
What about the ‘Circulation Boosters’?
They don’t boost the circulation. There are several products on the market that come under the category of ‘circulation booster‘. They apply a small electrical impulse to make the muscles contract which makes the blood flow. They do make the circulation return from the foot better for the duration of being on the device, but they do nothing to improve the circulation. A walk around the block will do more good for your circulation and than a circulation booster.
There are plenty of anecdotes about how good the circulation boosters are (and plenty of anecdotes and testimonials about them not working). Many report an improvement in symptoms after using one, but that improvement may be due to placebo or the electrical stimulation altered pain perception. The improvement in symptoms will not be because the circulation improved.
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