Many people with diabetes experience pain and discomfort in their feet because of nerve damage, poor circulation or both. Circulation is the umbrella term for how blood is pumped around the body by the heart. Blood transports oxygen from the lungs to every cell and removes carbon dioxide and other harmful waste products. As our feet are the furthest points from the heart, it takes longer for the blood to reach them.
Diabetes causes blood vessels in the legs and feet to narrow and harden, restricting blood flow which means your feet are less able to fight infection and heal. Poor blood flow contributes to the 130,000 amputations that occur annually among people with diabetes in the USA.
Many treatments are available such as blood thinners and other drugs that protect blood flow to your feet. Making small changes to your daily habits can also positively affect your circulatory system. These include quitting smoking, taking regular walks outside, getting a massage, eating a healthy diet and putting your feet up.
Relaxation reduces blood pressure and heart rate and diverts blood away from muscles and toward the digestive system and the skin. More blood flow to the skin warms it up and increases the amount of oxygen and nutrients available to areas such as the feet.
Note that when the body is relaxed, it uses carbohydrates more efficiently, and blood glucose levels may dip a few hours after a period of relaxation. Therefore if you take insulin, it's advisable to monitor your blood glucose levels more frequently.
A soothing warm bath is an excellent place to start because the warm water expands your veins and arteries, meaning there is more room for blood to flow. Conscious muscle relaxation and deep breathing can lower your heart rate and blood pressure, increase your body temperature and send blood to more areas of the body, including your feet. And so does the WarmFeet relaxation technique. This is a three-part system that widens peripheral blood vessels and improves circulation in the hands and feet.
Listen to a guided relaxation recording that helps you release tension through breathing practices and conscious muscle relaxation.
Visualize comfort or warmth around your feet. Creating such a strong mental picture helps the feet to feel warmer and more at ease. Also beneficial is visualizing healthy outcomes and remembering when your feet and legs were more powerful.
Practise assisted temperature biofeedback, a technique where you use measured information to control some of your body's functions, such as skin temperature. So how does it work?
Measure your skin temperature at a specific site, such as the fleshy part of one of your big toes, before and after you relax. If you log a temperature increase post-relaxation, it demonstrates you have achieved a more relaxed state. Remembering how good the relaxed state feels and wanting to improve on it next time round will strengthen your ability to achieve this desirable outcome.
If you have chronic ulcers or have been in pain for some time, a healthcare professional can help you practice the WarmFeet technique.
Research by the University of Wisconsin demonstrated the value of the WarmFeet technique on a group of 16 people with chronic nonhealing ulcers on the feet. Half of the volunteers had diabetes. Following eight weeks of relaxation therapy, the ulcers of fourteen of the sixteen participants were completely healed. Only seven out of sixteen in the control group (which didn't use the relaxation technique) experienced a similar outcome. When the study was over, four control group members tried the WarmFeet approach and their ulcers healed within 13 weeks.
Another great way to relax and improve blood flow to the feet is with a foot massage. A professional massage is a real treat, but you can also do it yourself if your condition allows. Here's how:
If you have diabetic neuropathy, it's advisable to consult a healthcare professional to determine if a massage is suitable.
For more information about how to improve blood circulation to the feet, call MINT today or book an appointment online.