Suffer a serious injury to your leg and it's probably no mystery why you may have leg pain, muscle cramps or swelling in your legs or ankles. But often many of us find we're suffering from minor leg problems and pain, but unsure as to what the cause may really be.
Aging Affects Leg And Foot Health
The truth is that many things can affect the health of our legs. Unfortunately, one of the most common is simply getting older. As we age all of us lose muscle mass as a natural part of the aging process. Since our body depends upon its muscles, not just for lifting things but also to aid in circulation, that loss of muscle mass can result in a variety of problems, especially for our legs and feet.
A common problem is that reduced amount of muscle makes it easier to strain our leg muscles by doing too much. It might be a change at our job that has us on our feet more or suddenly walking a lot more than we used to. Perhaps it's a weekend outing where we take a nice long, but slightly strenuous walk. The result can be swelling, numbness, tingling, cramps or changes in color or temperature of our legs or feet, all symptoms that can be caused by putting more strain on our feet and legs than they are normally used to.
A second result of aging is that some parts of our bodies do begin to wear out. If the valves in the arteries in our legs, for example, don't operate as efficiently as they once did, the result can be a pooling of blood in our lower extremities. That can mean swollen ankles, varicose veins, constantly cold feet and similar leg problems.
Medications Can Be The Source Of Foot And Leg Problems
Another common, but often overlooked source of leg health problems, can be the medications many of us take. A very common one for many women, birth control pills, can increase a woman's risk for blood clots and the pain and potentially serious problems that can come with such clots. That risk is much higher for women who also smoke.
Some other common medications, such as diuretics (water pills), blood pressure medicines, medications to reduce cholesterol, and even anti-nausea medicines, can cause muscle cramps as one of their common side-effects. Estrogens are another commonly prescribed medication for many women that can result in leg pain as a side effect.
The Effects Of Alcohol And Smoking
Sometimes foot and leg pain may be associated with lifestyle choices we make. The consumption of alcohol, especially heavy drinking, has a clear association with circulatory problems, muscle cramps and blood clots. Similarly, those who use tobacco also are putting themselves at high risk for similar leg problems, as well as for a number of other serious health issues.
Don't Ignore Leg And Foot Problems
With so many things associated with leg and foot problems, it may seem almost inevitable that you will suffer from leg pain of some sort. In reality, however, while we all may have to expect some stiffness and soreness as part of the natural aging process, there are a number of things you can do to reduce your risk for serious foot and leg health issues.
An important first step is to talk with your personal doctor if you are having persistent or serious leg pain or other leg or foot-related problems. While swelling or cramping in your legs may seem only a minor problem, and most likely is, if it is a long-term problem for you, or causing significant pain, it might be a sign of a serious health issue. Your health professional can diagnose what the real cause is.
If your problem is recent and fairly minor in nature, chances are usually good that it will clear up soon on its own. However, you want to monitor that the problem really is improving, and you want to analyze what the cause of the leg problems might be. Often, that's relatively easy to figure out. If you realize that you have changed your level of activity recently, it may simply be that you have tried to do too much too quickly, resulting in some simple stress or a minor injury.
You should also review the medications you are currently be taking. If you believe they might be related to your leg pain, call the physician who prescribed them to discuss the matter.
Taking Steps To Improve Foot And Leg Health
You can also take steps to minimize the leg pain, cramping or swelling you are experiencing, and to try and make sure it does not happen again. Increasing your level of exercise, slowly and safely, is one way to address the problem. Although we may lose muscle mass as we age, exercising more can help us regain some of that muscle. As importantly, exercise tones our muscles, helping not only the muscles to operate more efficiently, but also helping our overall health. Good leg muscles are part of the power that helps our heart pump the blood through the veins in our legs. Let those leg muscles get out of shape, however, and you automatically make your heart work harder to move the blood from your lower extremities back to your heart and lungs, and you increase your risk for blood clots, swollen ankles and varicose veins.
A key factor, however, is to be smart about increasing the amount of exercise in your life. If you are in poor health, or past the age of 45, or have been living a very sedentary life, talk with your doctor first before undertaking any program of moderate to strenuous exercise. It's also important, when you do start adding additional exercise, that you begin slowly and take your time. If you are out of shape or overweight, that's not something that happened overnight. Be realistic and give your body time to adapt to slowly increasing levels of physical activity. Don't overdo and you won't be making your foot or leg problems any worse, but instead will be making changes to insure better future health.
Compression Hosiery Can Offer Many Benefits
Quality compression hosiery can also play a big role in minimizing leg pain and swelling, as well as in preventing further leg problems. For both men and women, graduated compression hosiery provides pressure that helps reduce pooling of the blood in the lower extremities and that makes it easier for the heart to efficiently circulate the blood through our feet and legs and back to the heart. While some people think compression hosiery is only important for those with an existing medical condition affecting the feet or legs, the truth is that compression socks or pantyhose can benefit almost everyone. They are particularly important for people who spend a great deal of their time each day either standing on the feet or sitting in one position, such as at a desk.
While there is no way to guarantee that you will never suffer from cramps, swelling or just simple leg pain, there clearly are many things you can do to minimize that risk. Stay informed about health issues, learn about the medications you are taking, exercise to stay fit and consider compression hosiery to minimize potential problems. They're all simply steps that can mean better leg and foot health.