How to Improve Leg Circulation in the Elderly

How to improve leg circulation in the elderly? It is a problem for many elderly on how to maintain blood flow on their legs. The main reasons are a lot of deal with blood vessel problems,  diabetes, kidney problems, and heart diseases. Most of the time, it is neglected by many people.

Except when they start to hurt, turn into a different color, or feel that you have to drag your feet. Oftentimes these are indications that it is getting worse. 

Ways To Improve Leg Circulation In The Elderly

What Causes Poor Circulation on Your Legs?

Peripheral Vascular Disease is a group of blood circulation disorders that causes the blood vessels outside of your heart and brain to narrow, block, or spasm. This can happen in your arteries or veins. And they can differ depending on which part of the leg is affected, how it is relieved, and what conditions they happened. 

Peripheral Artery Disease (PAD)

It is when your arteries are narrowed, and unable to circulate the blood coming from the heart to the periphery. The most common symptom of this is the pain located on the dorsum of the feet, toes, and lateral malleolus, aggravated by elevation of the leg and relieved by sitting dangling. 

The skin of the legs looks thickened and has no hair due to less nourishment on the area. Without blood circulating on your toes, necrosis can occur. Touching your legs will feel cold, from the loss of warmth of blood flow. And lastly, hip to leg pain can occur after an activity or walking (intermittent claudication).

Peripheral Venous Disease (PVD)

It is when your veins are narrowed, and unable to bring back deoxygenated blood back to the heart. This can be caused by an underlying cardiac problem (heart failure), or an injury. The most common symptom is the pain located on the medial aspect of the leg and ankle and relieved by elevation of the leg. 

The legs are warm to the touch and can appear swollen due to the blood not being able to return to the heart. Sores can look irregular and shape and pinkish (granulation present), and the skin may also be thick but brownish

Risk Factors of Poor Circulation on Your Legs

Poor Leg Circulation Risk Factors

According to Healthline, these are the risk factors for poor circulation on your legs. 

  • People who are over age 50 – 25% of people develop PAD in the United States who are over 80 years old. In a large database of over 3.6 million screened subjects, the prevalence of any peripheral vascular disease (defined as PAD, AAA, or carotid stenosis) increased from 1 in 50 to nearly 1 in 3 for the 40–50-year-old and 91–100-year-old age. 
  • Overweight – Obesity is identified to be one of the risk factors of poor circulation on the legs. This is from PAD, with underlying problems of hypertension, dyslipidemia (abnormal content of lipids/fats on the body), and hyperglycemia (a condition connected to high glucose levels, from diabetes. 
  • Abnormal cholesterolHaving high cholesterol (or a high LDL level) promotes plaque buildup in your arteries. When you have too much plaque, your arteries can become narrowed and limit blood flow. Having a high level of fat in your blood (triglycerides) also raises your risk for blocked arteries.
  • History of cerebrovascular disease or stroke – In patients with PAD and symptoms, strokes are reported. Comorbidities such as age, prior stroke, prior atrial fibrillation/flutter, diabetes mellitus, higher blood pressure, prior amputation, lower ankle-brachial index, and geographic region were each independently associated with it. 
  • Heart disease – Chronic heart failure (CHF) is associated with a high comorbidity burden, adverse impact on the quality of life, and high health care utilization. Patients with CHF are more likely to develop the peripheral vascular disease, have decreased exercise capacity
  • Diabetes – Diabetes is another major risk factor of peripheral vascular disease. Accumulated glucose and the inability to process fats will lead them stuck in the bloodstream. And damage the arteries and veins that cause atherosclerosis, and blocks the passageway of blood. 
  • Kidney disease on hemodialysis – Persons with chronic kidney disease (CKD) are at a higher risk of developing peripheral artery disease (PAD) and its adverse health outcomes than individuals in the general population who have normal renal function. This was compared from examinations like an ankle-brachial index. 

How Can You Improve Leg Circulation?

Avoid Smoking

Smoking has been shown to promote the acceleration of atherosclerotic disease and has been identified as one of the strongest risk factors in the development of peripheral artery disease. Risks of having poor leg circulation are lowered, whenever an individual quits the habit. Although, people who are not smoking at all have the lowest chance. 

Factors Affecting Life Expectancy

Quitting to smoke can lower that risk, as mentioned above. It can be negotiated with your primary care provider, and physician. Guidelines will be given, not only physically, but also in the psychological aspects of the matter. Whether there is in need to undergo counseling or medical interventions is up to their specific needs. 

Controlling Blood Pressure

The likelihood of developing poor circulation on the leg depends on the quality, and intensity of your blood flow. By being able to monitor your blood pressure, will keep you at bay with your heart, and blood vessels. Circulation on your leg can also be checked, only if without deep vein thrombosis (DVT) or cellulitis.

Taking your medications is necessary. The following blood pressure medications from the American Heart Association are diuretics, beta-blockers, ACE inhibitors, angiotensin II receptor blockers, etc. Most of all, blood thinners or anticoagulants are prescribed to patients especially those with PAD. This is to control any worsening symptoms or development of it.

Eating Right

Specific diets are required for patients with peripheral vascular diseases. According to one study, they recommended including eating fresh or frozen food without added sugars, minimizing intake of salt or high-calorie sauces, and using cooking methods that preserve the original nutrients. 

The diet should also include a diversity of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, soluble fibers, and legumes. Cooking with certain vegetable oils, particularly olive and canola oils, but not coconut and palm oils, is preferred over animal fat. Cardiovascular diets are recommended, to follow DASH or Mediterranean diets with their physician’s permission. 

Compression Socks and Elevation

To improve blood flow on your leg, you can use compression socks for your comfort. . This can affect the blood flow on your legs, with activities like walking or doing house chores. You can it every day for your safety. Here are the best compressions socks, for you to figure out what can be right for your problem. 

Compression Sock to improve leg circulation

While compression socks can help you, the elevation of your legs is one of the fastest relief to improve your leg circulation. You can put your leg with two pillows up, and you can do ankle pumps.  Although, you can be mindful of whether this can trigger the 6 Ps of your PAD/PVD: pallor, pain, paresthesia, paralysis, pulselessness, and poikilothermia. 

Exercises

Elderly people are encouraged to do cardiovascular exercises to improve their heart health. A simple walk in the park, a quick jog, or walking a dog can improve circulation on your leg. There are also specific exercises for you to follow. 

Cardiovascular exercise for elderly

Lying Down on Bed.

  • Ankle Pumps

This is done with the elevation of the legs when you are lying on the back. Once placed in the proper position, point your toes to the ceiling and away from you. Do it slowly, about 10 to 20 times. Although, some patients require compression socks or bandaging to see better results. 

  • Ankle Rotation 

In the same position, make a circle with one of your feet. Do it slowly, about 10-20 times. The direction can differ, where you start clockwise, or counterclockwise. This differs because it targets the muscles for eversion and inversion that are not easy to mind with ankle pumps. 

  • Calf Stretch

While lying on your back, use a band to wrap around the back of your foot. You can raise your leg. Then, fold the ankles until you feel the stretch. The stretch can be felt from the back of your thighs, and your legs. This will improve flexibility in the area involved. 

Walking

According to Penn Medicine, a mindful workout to manage symptoms of PAD, or any peripheral vascular disease is through a programmed walking regime. They have given evidence, that it can benefits patients to continue their daily lives even with the condition. Therefore, here are the 6 steps to be mindful of.

You can also use a treadmill. This shall be done with supervision, especially if symptoms of back pain to the legs occur. Intermittent claudication is a symptom that can vary whether it is a neurological condition or vascular in origin. Walking downhill, and for a long period of time are factors to be mindful. 

When Is It an Emergency?

Consulting your physician will be a definite choice whenever the 6 Ps of peripheral health is experienced by the elderly. Symptoms to mind are: if there’s any throbbing or pulsating pain on the legs, swelling, and the legs feel heavy. Whether that’s the case or not, any unusual symptoms need to be reported. 

About Estephanie Jill

Estephanie Jill (EJBP, BSPT, PTRP) is a licensed physiotherapist. She is a home health care provider, laboratory technician for physical therapy students, medical transcriptionist, and an advocate of the physiotherapy profession. Apart from that, she loves writing. Playing to her strengths, she mainly writes around health and fitness, She has been commended for her writing in the past. Her other passions include commenting on societal changes and writing life reflective pieces. She enjoys meaningful conversations, and detaching from the digital world to do yoga and meditation. She is a self-confessed foodie who enjoys eating for the experience and then burning it all off through exercise.