Poor circulation is bad enough on its own. When your legs and feet don’t get the support they need from your bloodstream, you can experience painful cramping during or after activity, burning or tingling pain, muscle weakness, numbness, and more.
Effects of Poor Circulation
But the problem goes way beyond the basic symptoms. Good circulation is key to ensuring that your cells get the oxygen and nutrients they need to thrive, or even just survive. It’s also how your body delivers the necessary agents to fight disease, close wounds, and repair tissues that have been ruptured or damaged. And that means poor circulation, frequently caused by peripheral artery disease, poses an especially great risk for the health of your feet.
Peripheral neuropathy, which often appears alongside poor circulation (especially in individuals with diabetes), compounds the problem. Now, in addition to your ability to heal wounds safely being compromised, you may not even be able to feel the injury in the first place—and therefore act fast enough to stop it from worsening.
Consider what might happen if you cut your foot, or pop a blister. Under normal circumstances, your foot would hurt from the injury, and you’d take a closer look to confirm the problem. You’d wash out the wound, apply a little antibiotic ointment, and bandage it. Your blood platelets would respond quickly to stop the bleeding, and your white blood cells would flood the area to halt the encroachment of any infecting pathogens. Within a couple of days or weeks, it’d be as if nothing ever happened.
Risks to the Feet Caused by Poor Circulation
If you have poor circulation, though? For starters, if you also have neuropathy, you might cut your foot or pop a blister and not realize it until hours later, after you remove a wet or bloody sock. Your body can’t close up the wound fast enough, nor fight infecting agents fiercely enough—giving germs ample time and opportunity to get in and stay in. Within a couple of days or weeks, you may have a large, infected ulcer that’s getting worse, not better.
If circulation loss is extreme, you may not even need an injury at all. If your body simply can’t deliver the minimum level of oxygen and nutrition to the body’s cells, then they might simply die (gangrene). Once tissues begin dying, or infections become severe, there may be no other choice but to amputate.
If you have any issues with circulation in your feet or legs, it is vitally important that you take steps to protect your feet. And if you aren’t sure you have a circulatory problem, but are experiencing some of the common symptoms or risk factors, we urge you to schedule a screening.