How to Improve Leg Circulation in the Elderly

massaging to improve leg circulation

Maintaining healthy circulation throughout the body is critical for proper bodily functions. However, it’s quite common for our aging loved ones to suffer from compromised circulation as they get older.

Luckily, there are plenty of ways that we can help them slow down the progress of this condition or even fix it altogether.

Keep on reading if you want to know how to improve leg circulation in the elderly!

Signs of Poor Circulation in Elderly People

Cold Extremities (Hands & Feet)

Since our blood is responsible for regulating our body temperature, the lack of proper circulation means less blood reaching our far extremities where blood vessels are thinner and smaller.

This leads to an impaired ability to keep the hands and feet warm.

Purple or Blue Color in Hands & Feet

This condition is known as “peripheral cyanosis,” which happens when the percentage of oxygen carried by the red blood cells in a certain area drops due to the inability of the blood to reach the area, making it a strong sign of poor circulation when it shows in the legs.

Numbness or “Pins & Needles” Sensation in Hands & Feet

Numbness usually happens when circulation in a certain part of the body is cut off for some time. 

As the blood rushes back to this part, the tingling sensation starts to alert you. In that case, it’s often accompanied by painful cramps or fatigue.

However, if you experience numbness or “pins and needles” sensation in your hands and feet even when you’re not sitting in a compromising position, it’s possible that you have a medical problem that inhibits the blood from reaching your hands and feet, such as poor circulation.

Swollen Legs, Feet, or Ankles

While swelling can happen for a variety of reasons, it usually means a circulation issue when it happens. In that case, the swelling is caused due to the slow return of the blood from the extremities vessels.

This leads to a buildup of pressure that causes the plasma and excess fluids to spread into surrounding tissues, causing edema that requires immediate medical attention.

Possible Causes of Bad Leg Circulation in the Elderly

There are plenty of reasons that can cause bad leg circulation in an elderly person. Here’s a quick look at some of them:

Age-Related Symptoms

As people advance in age, their muscles become weaker and recover slower than they used to. Combined with the significant lack of activity, the leg muscles become unable to push the blood through the vessels like they used to.

Venous Insufficiency

Venous Insufficiency is a condition where blood vessels aren’t capable of returning to the heart easily, which leads to pooling of the blood.

Obesity

The high percentage of total body fat, combined with high cholesterol, can cause several problems that inhibit blood vessels from dilation properly, inhibiting the circulation and increasing the risk of strokes.

Diabetes 

Diabetes causes a serious impact on feet circulation, especially the feet. Complications of a diabetic foot can go as far as cutting the circulation completely off the foot, which leads to necrosis and amputation of the foot.

Heart Conditions

Since the heart is the pump that is responsible for pushing the blood all over the body, multiple heart conditions can reduce its efficiency and ability to transport the blood. This includes:

● Atherosclerosis (hardening of the blood vessels)

● Peripheral Artery Disease (the buildup of plaque inside the vessels)

● Deep Vein Thrombosis (the formation of a blood clot inside the veins, especially the legs in that case)

How to Improve Leg Circulation in the Elderly

Now that you know more about poor leg circulation, what causes it, and its symptoms, let’s have a quick look at some of the best methods to improve leg circulation:

Physical Exercise

The golden standard when it comes to improving leg circulation is following a program that includes forms of physical exercise that involve the muscle of the leg. 

Multiple studies have concluded that low-impact exercises, such as walking, jogging, stationary cycling, yoga, swimming, etc., can help greatly in vasodilation and stimulate the blood to flow in the body.

Exercising is also great for the general health of the heart, which translates to an immediate improvement in its functions, including blood circulation to the legs and feet. 

In addition to the direct impact, exercising will also help you strengthen the muscles of the legs and lose more weight, so they help in reducing the effects of other conditions, such as venous insufficiency and obesity.

Make Dietary Changes

Making dietary changes and avoiding highly processed foods that consist of high amounts of trans fat, sugar, and sodium is also a great step towards better circulation in the legs. 

Not only that but having a better diet will also help you lose more weight and build more muscle in the lower body area, which helps greatly in improving leg circulation and removing stress factors of the joints and blood vessels.

Moreover, some types of food can directly enhance the circulation of the body, especially the ones containing nitrates, which is one of the main ingredients used in vasodilator medications used to increase blood flow.

Use Augmentation Garments

Augmentation garments, also called medicated garments, are used to improve health conditions in various areas of the body.

The most popular form of augmentation garment for leg circulation is compression socks. 

These stockings are characterized by their calf-high length and snug git that allows them to squeeze the muscles of the feet and calves to stimulate more blood to flow through these vessels and back to the heart.

These medicated socks can also be used to alleviate the symptoms of poor leg circulation, such as varicose veins.

However, you should know that medicated socks are suitable for everyone, and you should consult your podiatrist before getting one.

Cut Down on Causative Agents and Harmful Habits

As you now know, bad habits, such as smoking, can be detrimental to everyone’s health in a variety of ways, especially for the elderly and those who have been doing it for a very long time.

Many health conditions are treated or greatly improved simply by finding the causative agent and cutting down on it, such as simple sugars and carbs in diabetes.

You should also avoid secondhand smoke and other forms of nicotine smoking, such as vaping.

By cutting down on smoking and other habits that lead to poor leg circulation, you should expect a decent improvement in the flow rate of blood through your lower body.

Soak Your Feet in Warm Water

Hydrotherapy is one of the best ways to improve your body’s circulation. In this case, you can simply soak the feet in some warm water. 

Such a method stimulates the superficial blood vessels around the skin to dilate, which pushes more blood into the feet and warms the feet up quickly, making it an excellent remedy for cold feet.

Soaking the feet in warm water doesn’t only help with circulation problems but also alleviates symptoms of anxiety and stress. However, the water should be around 90 °F and 100 °F to avoid scalding the skin.

Some physicians might also recommend adding some magnesium salts (Epsom salt), which promotes blood flow.

Elevate Your Legs

One of the best ways to solve the swelling and fluid buildup problem caused by poor leg circulation is to keep your elevated.

In fact, elevating the legs works helps with poor leg circulation even if you don’t suffer from swelling or pain in the leg.

Ideally, any senior who is going to sit for an extended period of time should elevate their legs to make it easier for the blood to return to the heart and avoid stagnation of the blood.

Consult Your Doctor about Proper Supplementation

Nutrition is essential for seniors to maintain a healthy muscle mass and avoid the degenerative musculoskeletal effects of aging.

However, in some cases, the development in such conditions can be too quick to be managed solely with a healthy diet.

In that case, many doctors might suggest adding a few dietary supplements to the mix in order to keep bodily functions, including vascular health, in check. 

Consider Physical Therapy and Massage Techniques

One of the most common extra benefits of physical therapy and massage techniques is that it stimulates the blood to flow towards the area that is being massaged.

Luckily, we can reap the benefits of this side effect to our advantage by massaging the feet and calf region, especially by a professional physical therapist. 

Additionally, some alternative medicine methods, such as acupuncture, are also believed to stimulate the flow of blood into these parts of the body. 

However, like the previous point, you should also consult your podiatrist before attempting any of these solutions, especially if you suffer from certain conditions like a history of strokes, heart failure, or skin infections.

Foods that Improve Blood Circulation in Legs

As previously discussed, avoiding certain types of food can alleviate the circulatory stress on the legs and make it much easier for the blood to flow. 

In addition to that, eating some types of food can also improve circulation, which is usually through mechanisms like dilation of the blood vessels and stimulating more blood to flow. These foods include:

● Olive oil, nuts, fatty fish, and healthy fats in moderate amounts

● Hot pepper, such as cayenne pepper

● Cinnamon

● Dark berries that are rich in antioxidants

● Beets 

● Ginger 

● Turmeric

● Citrus fruits like lemon and lime

● Tomatoes

● Onion

● Garlic

● Leafy greens

● Pomegranate

How to Improve Circulation in Legs While Sleeping

Lack of proper circulation while sleeping can cause serious numbness and discomfort in the morning.

While there’s a debate on whether you should wear compression socks while sleeping, it’s generally accepted that elevating the legs while sleeping can be great for those with swelling problems or poor circulation.

The best way to apply elevation is by using wedge-shaped pillows to keep your legs above the level of the heart.

Alternatively, you can use folded blankets or pillows to simulate the effect of the wedge-shaped pillow.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Can you reverse poor circulation in the legs?

Yes. According to research and studies, poor leg circulation can be reversed by following a program of proper dieting and exercising unless the circulation is impaired due to a condition that can only be solved via surgery or medications.

What is the best exercise for poor circulation in the legs?

Any exercise that involves low body muscle groups without stressing the joints should be a perfect exercise for poor leg circulation. Here are 7 of the best forms of workouts to help with the condition:
● Walking for those with no joint problems
● Knee extensions
● Ankle circles
● Stationary cycling
● Side hip raise
● Hamstring curl
● Standing knee flexion

How can I regain circulation in my legs?

Regaining circulation depends on the severity of the poor circulation and the causative agents. In most cases, proper exercising and dieting should be enough to regain proper circulation in the lower body, but in some cases, your doctor might also recommend a medical intervention to initiate or speed up the process.

How can I increase blood circulation in my legs naturally?

Following a program of exercising and healthy eating, along with constant elevation and warming your feet, are considered natural methods to improve blood circulation. 

How can the elderly improve circulation in feet?

Consider directly massaging the soles, toe massages, and keeping the feet warm using medical stockings, hydrotherapy, and foot warmers.

Wrapping it Up

There you have it! A complete guide that shows you how to improve leg circulation in the elderly, in addition to answering several questions that you might be curious about regarding this topic.

As you can see, while exercising and moving the body remains the golden standard when it comes to improving leg circulation in relatively healthy seniors, there are plenty of other methods that can also help with this matter.