If you have had foot pain or other problems involving your feet, one of the reasons may be poor circulation. This can lead to numerous health conditions, or worsen those you already have. The first indication of poor circulation is usually a problem with the hands, feet, or legs. There are many causes of poor circulation, some of which are related to unhealthy lifestyle choices. Poor foot circulation is sometimes caused by obesity, lack of exercise, or poor food choices.
Unhealthy habits, can cause the arteries that carry oxygenated blood and nutrients around the body, to become diseased. A diseased artery narrows, preventing the easy flow of blood to organs and muscles. The reduced blood flow results in less oxygen being delivered to all parts of the body, which can hinder its ability to function normally.
A number of diseases, including diabetes, hypertension (high blood pressure), and high cholesterol, can also interfere with blood flow and cause poor circulation. People with diabetes are especially at risk for foot problems.
Nerve damage, circulation problems, and infections can cause serious foot problems for people with diabetes. Sometimes, nerve damage can deform or misshape your feet, causing pressure points that can turn into blisters, sores, or ulcers. Poor circulation can make these injuries slow to heal. At times, this can lead to amputation of a toe, foot, or leg.
Reduced blood flow to the limbs is called peripheral artery disease (or peripheral arterial disease). This usually affects the legs. This disease is generally caused by atherosclerosis, which is a build-up of fatty deposits (plaque), in the artery walls. Poor circulation that is not addressed, can develop into a serious disorder, and lead to varicose veins, kidney damage, and strokes.
Symptoms to Look For
People with poor circulation or peripheral artery disease may not have any symptoms, or they may have mild pain or “burning” in the feet. The pain may occur with walking, exercise, and decreases with rest. Other symptoms associated with peripheral artery disease include:
- Painful cramping of the muscles in the hip, thigh, or calf after activity (claudication)
- Leg numbness or weakness
- Coldness in the lower leg or foot, compared with other parts of the body
- A sore, poorly healing wound or ulcer on the toe, foot, or leg
- Change in skin colour or shiny skin on the legs
- Hair loss or slower hair growth on the feet and legs
- Slower toenail growth
- No pulse or a weak pulse in the legs or feet
- Erectile dysfunction in men
Evaluation of Poor Circulation in Feet – What to Expect
By simply looking at your feet, your doctor/ podiatrist may see physical signs of poor circulation, the most obvious sign being evidence of poor wound healing. Your doctor/ podiatrist may perform a Doppler ultrasound examination to evaluate blood flow, and identify blocked or narrowed arteries.
How to Improve Poor Circulation in Your Feet
Poor circulation in the feet can be treated in a number of ways. Management of the underlying cause of the poor circulation, is a key part of treatment. It is also helpful to eliminate risk factors for poor circulation, such as lack of exercise, smoking, and obesity. In people with diabetes, this also means good control of blood glucose (sugar) levels.
Medications often used in the treatment of peripheral artery disease include:
- Symptom-relief medications to increase blood flow to the limbs and treat symptoms of claudication
- Antiplatelet or anticoagulant medications to prevent blood clotting
- Cholesterol-lowering medications (statins), to reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke
- High blood pressure medications (anti-hypertensives)
- Medications to control blood sugar in those with diabetes
For serious issues with blood flow, your doctor may consider angioplasty, which can be used to enlarge the narrowed peripheral arteries, or arterial bypass, in which a vein from another part of the body is used to bypass the narrow or blocked artery. These procedures are usually performed by a vascular surgeon.
Foot care is especially important for those with poor circulation to the foot (peripheral vascular disease). Some ways of better caring for your feet include:
- Wearing proper shoes to avoid placing undue pressure on certain areas of the foot and to prevent injury
- Practising proper foot hygiene and taking gentle care of corns and calluses
- Inspecting your feet daily
- Seeking help from your doctor/ podiatrist for any wounds, sores, or infections on the foot that won’t heal
How Can I Prevent Poor Circulation in My Feet?
There is a lot you can do to prevent poor circulation in your feet. In addition to following your doctor’s/ podiatrist’s advice, you can make lifestyle changes that will greatly reduce your risk factors for poor circulation.
Smoking cessation not only improves blood circulation, but also prevents a host of other diseases, including diabetes. Smoking has been linked to Buerger’s disease, which affects blood vessels in the arms and legs and often causes pain, coldness, and sores in the hands and feet.
Regular exercise at least 30 minutes a day will help tremendously. Eating a healthy diet with fruits and vegetables is also important for good health, and helps the body function normally. Other natural remedies to improve circulation include supplements, hydrotherapy, aquatherapy, and massage. However, you should check with your doctor/ podiatrist before trying any of these types of treatments.
Your feet mirror your general health . . . cherish them!