October 19, 2020
Almost all of us have legs, and almost all of us use those legs every single day. So why is it that we often ignore aches, pains and ailments in our lower limbs until it’s too late?
When your gums start to ache, or your tooth suddenly wobbles in ways you know it shouldn’t- you go to see a dentist. When you realise you are struggling to focus on the words in front of you, be it page or screen, and your eyes are straining- you go to see an optician. In other countries it's quite normal for people to see a vascular specialist when they have a problem with pain or unsightly veins.
For many reasons, in the UK we don’t habitually afford the same care and attention to our leg health as we do our dental or eye health. Even though vascular disease, like gum disease, is a progressive condition that can lea to long term complications. We use them every day (maybe less so since lockdown…), rely on them for all sorts of things, from getting up in the morning, to walking the dog, to dancing the nights away. They deserve some love and attention.
Every day, millions of people's quality of life is affected by leg and vein disease, and not getting the treatment they need soon enough. Speaking inParliament earlier this year, MP Emma Hardy spoke about the importance of investment and funding into the research and treatment of vein disease, calling it a “killer disease that few seem to know about, despite the devastation it causes to so many lives”. She continued to point out the concern that Covid-19 had stopped many people from seeking treatment or advice, either through fear or physical lockdowns.
Health issues in your legs need to be diagnosed and treated quickly, otherwise they can significantly worsen. Check them regularly, note what they look and feel like ‘normally’ so you can spot it immediately if something changes. A great method for this is the Three Point Check…
Has the skin on your legs or feet changed colour or texture recently? This could be anything from dry, scaly or red skin, to skin that is puffy or hot to the touch. What about cuts, bites or blisters? If you have one of these that hasn't healed after about two weeks, this needs to be seen by a nurse or podiatrist. Start by speaking to your GP surgery.
If your legs or feet are swollen, that's a sign from your body that something's not quite right. Swelling may be from an injury, or it could be a sign that your veins or lymphatic system aren't working as they should be.If your legs or feet are swollen and uncomfortable, you should see a nurse or podiatrist. Start by speaking to your GP surgery.
The occasional cramp in your legs when walking is normal, but if it's happening a lot that could be a sign of your circulation not working as it should. Tired, throbbing or painful legs can also be a sign that something is not quite right. Start by speaking to a pharmacist or your GP surgery.
Even the smallest change in the skin, shape or feel of your legs and feet should not be ignored. Push your GP for a scan if your symptoms support one, and if one isn't available quickly through the NHS there are a number of affordable private options available on a self pay basis. Just like dental care- we need to act quickly!
With all the joy of working from home (and occasional terror of home schooling!), things can slip by the wayside. But your legs still matter.
While some used the extra hours from not commuting or from being furloughed to don their tightest lycra and re-enact the Tour de France, set up a home gym, or run the length of the country from within their back garden- a lot of us didn’t. Many of us gave into temptation, not just working from home but working from bed, the sofa, the kitchen table, the garden… But we never moved far. Although you may feel like you’re wasting less time commuting, the reality is that daily walk to the bus, the station or all the way to the office was doing you a world of good.
As we’ve detailed in previous blog posts, the vein system in your legs has fresh, oxygenated blood pumped down from your heart, and the movements of your legs and feet essentially pumps the ‘used’ blood back up your veins and arteries, fighting gravity all the way. You calf muscles act as a pump, secondary to your heart, assisting this powerful surge up your leg veins and completing the circuit ready to go again. But if you’re not using your calf muscles, or any of your legs muscles in fact… it begins to struggle.
Stand up and walk around regularly. Move your feet in circular motions while you are sitting at your desk (or binging Netflix on the sofa). Stretch. Leave the house and go for an actual walk. It doesn’t have to be up a mountain, you don’t need to run, but you do need to move. Try to aim for moving your body continuously for 30 minutes, at least three times a week.This can be a brisk walk, a cycle, yoga or some terrifyingly intense HIIT workout.
Pick a form of movement that works for you, your routine, and your abilities. If you start with something too far outside of your comfort zone or realistic abilities, the likelihood of crashing out and vowing never to try again are high! Adding something into your weekly routine helps a lot- is there a time of day you usually stop, make a coffee and listen to a podcast or some music? Take that outside.Put some headphones in, take a water bottle or travel mug and walk out your front door for a while. You may even find your productivity once you get back to your desk benefits…
The same goes for checking in with your body. If your legs begin to ache it may just be from all this sudden regular exercise. They need to rest, just like the rest of your body. But the more you interact with your body, looking after it but also learning what constitutes the norm, the easier it is to spot changes. Time is tissue- the longer a venous leg health issue is left, the more damage it can do and the longer the recovery time. The sooner you notice something and can get it diagnosed, the sooner treatment can be recommended and your body can get back its normal rhythm of pumping blood down and up your legs as it should, without interruption.
Catch early, treat early.