Peripheral vascular disease, which is characterized by poor circulation, most often affects the lower extremities. Elevating your legs to an appropriate height can help relieve some of the discomfort in your legs, ankles and feet caused by poor circulation. Lifestyle changes and treating underlying medical conditions are your best chance for improving your circulation.
The symptoms of poor circulation will vary depending on the artery that is affected, but most commonly coldness or numbness of the feet is present. The skin may also appear to have a blue or red tint. Swelling of the feet, ankle or legs can also be a sign of poor circulation since the blood furthest from your heart has to work harder to return upwards through the circulatory system. If you have these symptoms, a physician can determine the cause and suggest the steps that can be taken to improve your situation. In the meantime, elevating your legs can ease discomfort caused by poor circulation.
The most common causes of poor circulation to the feet and legs are atherosclerosis and diabetes. Peripheral arterial disease can also cause poor circulation. People with peripheral arterial disease have a four-to-five times greater risk of a heart attack or stroke, according to the American Heart Association. Smoking, living an inactive lifestyle, or having high blood pressure or cholesterol can directly affect your circulation and influence the development of cardiovascular problems. Pregnancy can cause poor circulation during your final trimester because the enlarged uterus applies pressure to blood vessels of the pelvis and legs.
To improve your circulation, elevate your legs above heart level to promote venous drainage and reduce swelling. According to the "Manual of Medical-Surgical Nursing Care," do not elevate your legs more than 45 degrees, so your legs should be lifted and propped approximately 8 to 12 inches above your heart. Keep your legs elevated for approximately twenty minutes. Elevating your legs as often as possible will help ease swelling of lower extremities; however, it will not treat your poor circulation. While your feet are elevated, perform rotation exercises to improve circulation.
If you are overweight, lower your calorie and fat intake in combination with moderate exercise done at least five times per week for thirty minutes per day. If you travel long distances in the car, stop frequently to move your legs and stretch. Avoid crossing your legs.