Poor circulation in the legs is a common problem in many people especially the obese and the elderly. It is partly due to a sedentary lifestyle particularly with the modern lifestyle and in seniors there is the added factor of age-related changes in the blood vessels. The arteries tend to lose their elasticity and become hard and narrow while the veins weaken and dilate leading to stagnation of blood. Both problems compromise the blood flow in the legs to varying degrees and cause different conditions and symptoms.
Arteries carry blood that is rich in oxygen and nutrients to the legs. Veins on the other hand carry oxygen deficient blood that has wastes back up to the trunk to be processed by the liver and funneled by the heart to the lungs.Three different common conditions can arise in the arteries and veins of the legs.
The treatment for both artery and leg vein problems may differ but it is largely improved and prevented by certain measures that may be common to both types of circulatory disorders. The medical and surgical treatment of these conditions should be discussed with a doctor and vascular surgeon.
Exercise and even moderate physical activity can be helpful in preventing artery and vein problems in the leg. Once these problems do set in however, physical activity can often worsen the symptoms such as leg pain or swelling. Nevertheless the worsening of symptoms with activity does not mean that the condition is getting worse. The different ways to aid circulation in the legs should be discussed separately under artery and vein problems.
When the artery is narrowed or becomes hard, the blood flow to the lower leg and feet is impeded. In many cases this does not cause a major problem. When it is severe, walking can lead to pain as the tissue of the feet and leg do not receive adequate oxygen and nutrients. This should not discourage a person from walking and undertaking related physical activity. There is a risk of clots developing on and around the plagues in the artery and activity reduces the chances of clot formation.
Elevating the legs like when lying down only slows down blood flow further. Instead the legs should be slightly lower than the trunk so that the action of gravity can help blood push passed the narrowing to reach the feet. This is the reason that many people with peripheral arterial disease find that hanging their leg over the bed helps ease pain in the lower leg and feet during sleep. Compression stockings should not be used as this can further impede blood flow to the lower parts of the leg.
Elevating the legs is also helpful in circulatory problems in the legs veins. By raising the legs above the level of the heart, the blood can drain back up the leg to the trunk. This prevents the blood from congesting the legs, stretching the veins further, slowing the flow of oxygen rich blood to the legs or encouraging the formation of clots in the veins. Compression stockings are also helpful in conditions like varicose veins as it prevents the vein from enlarging and leading to incompetent valves. Even if walking around is not always possible, like when sitting for long periods during road or air travel, simple exercises of the calf and feet while sitting may assist with blood flow.Exercise and moderate physical activity also assists in circulatory problems involving the leg veins but for slightly different reasons than is the case for the arteries. When the leg and feet muscles contract, it helps to push the blood in the veins slight higher up the leg. These muscles essentially act as a pump to return blood to the trunk. Both varicose veins and deep vein thrombosis are worsened by blood that is stagnant. Therefore movement of blood is best aided with exercise.
Although these measures are helpful, it should not detract from the need for medication and surgery in some cases. Proper medical management is essential to prevent complications like leg ulcers or more serious and life threatening conditions like pulmonary embolism in patients with DVT. Lifestyle changes like losing weight, opting for a low fat diet and stopping cigarette smoking are also essential.