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Keep Your Legs Looking Good

legs_1.jpgTHOSE LEGS ARE MADE FOR TALKING
By Gabrielle Fagan

With the party season on the horizon, it'll soon be time to start making sure our legs are fit to flash.

We all know the allure of revealing great pins, but leg health expert Kimby Osborne says they deserve more than just a bit of occasional seasonal TLC.

She warns that we are neglecting our legs all year round - apart from a vanity check in the summer and winter - at our peril.

"Most women now aware and familiar with how important it is to pick up on any changes in our breasts to avoid cancer, yet 90% of us ignore any changes in what is one of the most important parts of the body - our legs," explains Kimby, a former chiropodist who is now director of training for compression hosiery company Activa Healthcare.

"By not taking heeding those warning signs we are putting our health at risk from at worst, life threatening deep vein thrombosis (DVT) through to a range of ailments ranging from varicose veins to leg ulcers."

It's estimated that 50% of us are likely to experience leg problems during our lifetime.

"Too many people, and medical professionals like GPs, are unaware that regularly tired, aching legs, swollen ankles or legs or enlarged veins mean all is not well with the leg circulatory system," Kimby says.

"These symptoms shouldn't be regarded as normal, and can be alleviated and treated before they trigger worse problems. Yet, in general, the reaction of many GPs is to advise people simply to lose weight and put their feet up regularly. This is totally inadequate and ineffective."

Around 6.3 million people - 70% of whom are women - suffer from unsightly and often painful varicose veins. This occurs where valves within the veins do not work correctly, or the vein walls are weak, allowing the vein to become permanently enlarged.

But more worryingly, around one in 2000 people in the UK develop DVT. In the over-80s, this figure rises to one in every 500.

"New evidence from New Zealand shows that people are at high risk of developing circulatory problems from varicose veins through to DVT from sitting for long periods in offices, and not just travelling by plane," Kimby says.

"They can occur to people in coaches, cars and trains - any confined space which restricts movement.

"DVT is also more of a risk during pregnancy, and yet few people recognise that being sedentary or standing for up to two hours without moving puts our circulatory system under strain. It's essential to move, or exercise our feet and legs."

She also warns that while the majority of people assume they are protecting themselves from the risk of DVT when travelling by wearing support socks, they may be making matters worse by wearing the wrong size.

"Just buying them according to foot size is wrong, as a small foot may not mean a small leg. People need to check the size of their leg, and buy support hosiery that matches that and is effective. They should seek advice from pharmacists."

Kimby's pinpointed the top risks to leg health and an action plan to ensure those pins are in good working order

So strip off those trousers, boots and tights and check out our leg guide.

AM I AT RISK?

Do you regularly have the following symptoms? If you answer yes to any of the following questions you may experience problems with the veins in your lower legs.

These are signs that the leg circulation may not be working as efficiently as they should. If not attended to, there is a high risk of developing leg ulcers.

Do you have reddish/brown staining above the ankle; sores that appear within the stained skin; itchy patches above the ankle; wounds or knocks that are slow to heal; spider veins or thread veins; visible and painful varicose veins; tired throbbing and/or swollen legs?

Tall people with long legs may be more likely to have circulation problems in the leg as the blood has to travel further.

If you have any concerns it may be wise to have a leg assessment from your doctor or nurse.

VARICOSE VEINS

Varicose veins are thought to be a hereditary condition in around 70% of cases. They may suffered by teenagers through to the elderly.

Spider veins or thread veins may be a precursor to these developing, or a varicose vein may develop after an injury to the leg.

The other factors which influence whether you may suffer are: being over 40; smoking; being overweight or pregnant; suffering from tired, aching or swollen legs or if you spend long periods of time stationary (sitting or standing).

Varicose veins may be removed by surgery or relieved by wearing support hosiery which compress, support and help conceal the vein.

"Support stockings used to be dismissed as only worn by old ladies like the TV character Nora Batty, whose rumpled, ugly hosiery was a feature in Last Of The Summer Wine," Kimby says.

"Nowadays these tights and socks are indistinguishable from ordinary tights."

If you suffer from varicose veins, visit your pharmacist for advice. You may be referred for a holistic assessment by a healthcare professional.


SHAKE A LEG

To help keep your legs fit and reduce the risk of developing varicose veins or DVT, Kimby advises that you avoid sitting for long periods - ideally you should move around every 15 minutes, and definitely within two hours.

If that's difficult, do some quick leg and feet flexing to avoid putting your circulatory system under strain.

If you're sitting or lying down, flex the foot upwards and downwards so the toes point up and down. Also rotate to the right and then to the left several times. This will get the 'foot pump' - in the arch of the foot - going, and it will move the blood around.

If you're standing, rise up on tiptoes, flex the leg and then return to standing normally.

LEG DOS & DONT'S

DO: Regularly moisturise your legs, walk and exercise regularly, eat a balanced diet and watch your weight.

DO: Put your feet up; check your legs and feet regularly get treatment for any knocks or sores if around the ankle, particularly if you suffer from diabetes. Act on advice from a trained healthcare professional.

DON'T: Smoke, cross your legs for long periods, stand still for long periods, or remain inactive for extended periods, e.g. long journeys.

DON'T: Have very hot baths, ignore any sores or irritations, or assume your leg will get better by itself.

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