Sure, we do everything within our means to ensure that we remain healthy.
But even as we watch our diets and monitor our body weight, not everyone will remember to care for their lower limbs. But our legs are vital to making sure that we remain mobile, independent and have the freedom to enjoy daily activities, so here are some conditions to watch out for to make sure that your legs work well into your golden years:
1) Reduction in blood circulation
The blood vessels bringing vital nutrients to the tissues are longest in our legs and feet. They are also the most vulnerable to damage.
The walls of the vessel may lose its elasticity and allow cholesterol plagues to build up within the vessel. When the blood vessels are narrowed or blocked, blood cannot reach our extremities and can lead to the foot looking pale or blue. Feet will feel cold and the calves may cramp easily.
The skin in the lower extremities will also look dry, thin and may break easily.
2 ) Damage to nerves
Besides the blood vessels, the nerves in the feet are the longest and easily susceptible to damage too.
Chronic diseases such as diabetes can cause damage to the nerve cells, affecting its ability to conduct signals effectively. This can lead to a progressive loss of sensation in the legs and feet, usually starting with the toes. Loss of nerve function will also result in a loss of muscle bulk and lead to progressive weakness in the legs.
Deficient vascular and nervous systems can cause a cascade of problems.
For example, weakness in certain muscles of the leg and foot may alter the shape of your foot and your subsequent walking pattern. This can cause greater stress on some parts of your feet.
Increased stress on your feet may break the skin and cause a wound under the foot. Poor blood circulation then inhibits your body's ability to heal the wound, which quickly leads to an increased risk of infection.
If you still have sensation in your foot, you will feel pain and be able to seek medical treatment. But as there is a possibility you may lose feeling in your foot, you would be oblivious to the wound under the foot until deep infection has set in.
By then, your foot would be red and swollen, and pus will fill the deep wound and cause you to suffer a raging fever.
Check for nerve damage to feet
The key to prevention is early detection. A podiatrist can do simple checks on your feet to ensure that there are no problems with your nerves and blood circulation.
To check for nerve damage, the podiatrist will usually do three tests. He may use a 10 gram monofilament to poke 10 pre-determined sites in your foot. (Picture 1
|Picture 1 (above): 10gm Monofilament Test
|Picture 2 (above): Vibration Perception Test
If you cannot feel more than three of these sites, that may indicate nerve damage.
He will also use a machine called a neurothesiometer, which is a vibrating probe, and place it on your big toe. (Picture 2).
The strength of the vibration is gradually increased and is measured in volts ranging from 0 volts to 50 volts.
The inability to feel the vibration under 25 volts indicates nerve damage.
Lastly, the loss of ankle reflexes may also suggest nerve damage.
An ankle brachial index test measures the blood pressure in your lower limb with the use of a Doppler ultrasound machine. (Picture 3). This reading is presented as a ratio to the blood pressure in the rest of your body. For someone without any problems, this index should be between 1.0 and 1.3.
|Picture 3: Ankle Brachial Index Test
Your podiatrist will also give you tips and advice on foot care practices, good foot hygiene, good foot wear. A visit to your podiatrist is a simple and inexpensive way to ascertain good foot health and is especially recommended annually for those suffering from chronic diseases such as diabetes.
This article is contributed by Ms Malia Ho is a Podiatrist at The Foot Practice at 10, Sinaran Drive, Novena Medical Centre, #08-08, Singapore 307506. Appointments for consultation can be made at Tel: 6737 1000.