Veins carry blood back to the heart, whereas arteries carry blood from the heart. Venous stasis occurs when normal blood flow from the legs back to the heart is restricted. Improper vein function can result from superficial phlebitis, where superficial vein blood clots develop as a result of injury, or deep venous thrombosis, where blood clots form in the deep veins of the leg.
Venous stasis can cause pain, cramping, and swelling (edema) in the legs and ankles, as well as legs that feel tired, achy, throbbing, itchy, and/ or tight. The skin may thicken and darken, and ulcers may develop on the lower legs as a result of the blood pooling there. With varicose veins, the veins become enlarged and visible through the skin, taking on a ropy, bumpy appearance.
Treatment for venous stasis can include resting and elevating the legs, wearing compression stockings, and exercising to improve circulation. In some cases, doctors will prescribe medications or perform surgery on the veins (never take any medication without first consulting a doctor).
Although they usually do not last long, spasms, or sudden, intense muscle contractions, can be extremely painful. Spasms can occur in the feet, toes, hands, and thumbs, causing numbness, muscle weakness, tingling, and uncontrollable twitching. Foot and toe spasms are referred to as carpopedal spasms. Some causes of spasms are neuromuscular diseases, vitamin deficiencies, abnormal electrolyte or mineral levels, dehydration, and damage or injury to the nerves that connect to muscles.
Some spasms can be avoided or alleviated with proper hydration, vitamin or mineral supplements, and light activities that relax the muscles (never take any medication or supplement without first consulting a doctor). Since spasms may indicate an underlying medical condition, those suffering from any type of muscle spasm should immediately contact a doctor or healthcare professional.
Neuromas are benign growths of nerve tissue, or nerve tumors, that form when the nerves are irritated by surrounding tissue rubbing against them. Improper footwear that creates pressure on the foot, as well as foot structure abnormalities and injury to the nerves can cause or worsen neuromas. Symptoms of a neuroma include intense pain, swelling, tingling, numbness, and/ or a burning sensation in the toes and forefoot area. The pain usually intensifies when walking.
Neuromas most frequently develop between the third and fourth toes. Morton’s neuroma is a condition where the tissue surrounding the nerves thickens due to constant irritation or pressure, such as from wearing high-heeled or constricting shoes.
Treatment for a neuroma may include wearing properly fitting shoes with a roomy toe box, as well as cushioned shoe inserts or pads that alleviate pressure. The foot can be rested, elevated, and iced to relieve discomfort, swelling, and irritation. High heels or narrow-toed shoes that put pressure on the forefoot should be avoided. Since neuromas can worsen, consult a doctor for proper treatment, which may involve cortisone injections and even surgery in more severe cases to remove the neuroma.
Ischemic foot is inadequate arterial blood flow from the heart to the foot that can occur from arterial blockages, arterial spasms, and injury to the artery. Since blood flow is restricted to the foot, symptoms include cold feet, purplish or discolored toes, muscle cramping, and pain. Ulcers and gangrene can result from the lack of blood to the area. Treatment for ischemic foot involves exercises that increase blood flow to the feet, such as walking; orthotics and protective shoes can protect the affected skin from damage caused by rubbing or irritation. Medications may be prescribed to improve blood flow (always consult with a doctor before taking any medication).
Erythromelalgia, a rare condition, is enlarged blood vessels in the feet; it also can occur in the hands, but not as commonly. Symptoms include redness, intense warmth, burning sensation, and pain. The onset of erythromelalgia can be acute or gradual, and the condition can occur on its own or in relation to another disease. In some cases, erythromelalgia results from a genetic mutation.
For relief, affected areas can be cooled and elevated. Ice and water soaks are not recommended due to potential damage to the skin. Certain prescription medications can help alleviate erythromelalgia; it is important to see a doctor for proper diagnosis and treatment (no medication should be taken without the advice of a doctor).
Chilblains, an atypical response to cold temperatures, causes the formation of small, red bumps on the toes, fingers, nose, and/ or ears, the areas most susceptible to cold. Chilblains can also develop on other areas of the foot that are subjected to constant pressure. The bumps can swell and get worse, causing the affected skin to dry out and crack. The damaged skin can become blistered, ulcerated, and even infected. Those with poor circulation are more prone to chilblains. Chilblains can be chronic or acute.
Chilblains can be treated by keeping the body warm, particularly the areas usually affected by the condition. Skin with chilblains can be treated with antiseptic lotions to prevent infection, lanolin creams to maintain skin moisture, and calamine lotion to alleviate itching and discomfort (always consult a doctor before taking any type of medication). A doctor can properly diagnose the condition and treat any infections that develop.
Alcoholic neuropathy is nerve damage as a result of chronic alcohol abuse. The condition causes numbness, loss of sensation, pain, tingling, and weakness in the hands and feet that worsens over time. Alcoholic neuropathy can also affect other body parts and systems, including the brain. Drinking alcohol excessively can damage nerve tissue as a result of the ethanol found in alcoholic beverages; in addition, the problem may be compounded by a lack of vitamins and the poor diet alcoholics usually consume. The resulting nerve damage can become permanent if it is not properly treated.
To treat alcohol neuropathy, the underlying cause of alcoholism must be addressed so that the damaging alcohol consumption stops. In addition vitamin supplementation, particularly B vitamins, may restore the damaged nerves. Prescription medications are also available to alleviate the pain (always seek the advice of a doctor before taking any medication). In some cases, galvanic stimulation is administered to help improve nerve function. Magnetic therapy is another treatment option.
Acrocyanosis is a disorder that causes spasms in the arteries responsible for blood flow to the skin on the hands and feet. When the skin is deprived of necessary oxygen due to the constricted blood flow, it takes on a blue color, known as cyanosis. Acrocyanosis is not a common condition, although it afflicts women more than men. In addition to blue-colored skin, the hands and feet may feel moist and cold. Swelling may also be present, but the condition usually does not cause pain.
Since acrocyanosis can worsen with exposure to cold, acrocyanosis of the feet is treated by keeping the feet warm and dry so that the blood circulates as best as possible. Insulated boots and insulated socks can help with this. The condition does not worsen over time. Since acrocyanosis can be present alongside a serious medical condition affecting the cardiovascular system or connective tissue, it is best to seek the advice of a doctor or medical professional.