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14 Symptoms Of Poor Circulation In Feet + How To Improve It

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Bad circulation in feet and bad circulation in toes are two of the most common circulation problems for adults and lead to questions such as: “Why are my feet always cold?” or “Why are my toes always cold?“

So, what are the signs of poor circulation in feet or toes? What are the best strategies for how to improve circulation in feet? Is bad circulation in feet dangerous? And what causes bad circulation in toes and feet?

In this article, we will discuss what causes poor circulation in feet, symptoms of poor circulation in feet or toes, and tips for how to improve circulation in toes and feet.

We will look at: 

  • What Are the Signs of Poor Circulation In Feet?
  • What Causes Poor Circulation In Feet?
  • How to Improve Circulation In Feet

Let’s get started!

A person holding their toes.

What Are the Signs of Poor Circulation In Feet?

Oftentimes, people have various signs and symptoms of bad circulation in the feet or toes, but they are unaware that these are indeed signs of poor foot circulation, so they go unaddressed, and the problem isn’t treated.

For example, questions such as, “Why are my feet always cold?” and “What does it mean if my feet are cold all the time?” are indeed common signs of poor circulation in feet.

Being able to recognize the symptoms of circulation problems in feet and toes is a necessary precursor to working on how to improve poor circulation in feet and toes.

With that in mind, here are some of the poor foot circulation symptoms and signs:

  • Cold feet or toes, potentially the entire foot, both feet or just regions of the foot or particular toes on one or both feet
  • Numbness in the toes or feet
  • Pins and needles or tingling in the feet or toes 
  • Discoloration in the toes or feet, often a blue, purple, or red hue, or potentially pallor (whiteness/lack of color)
  • Pain or discomfort in the feet or toes
  • Stiffness in the feet, particularly if you have been sitting or lying down for a while and then get up to walk
  • Feet that become freezing or numb quickly in cold weather
  • Dry or cracked skin on the feet, toes, or ankles
  • Loss of hair on the tops of the toes or ankles
  • Poor wound healing on the feet or toes if you step on something or get an open sore on the feet
  • Sores or wounds that seem to pop up out of nowhere and take a long time to heal
  • Weak and brittle toenails
  • Slow capillary refill on the toenails, which means that if you press down on your toenails, it takes a while to see the toe turn pink again after going white when you occlude the blood from flowing under the nail bed

Depending on the severity of the bad circulation in your feet or toes, these signs of bad foot circulation may be present at all times, or they may come and go, generally being particularly noticeable after long periods of sitting or if you are outside in cold weather conditions.

Dry heels.

What Causes Poor Circulation In Feet?

So, what causes bad circulation in feet?

As with many health conditions, there can be a number of potential causes of poor circulation in your feet or toes.

Oftentimes, multiple factors are at play simultaneously, so when you are working on how to improve foot circulation, it is important to look at all of the common causes of bad circulation in feet so that you can address all of the underlying issues if possible.

That said, if you are displaying signs of bad circulation in feet, it is recommended you speak with your healthcare provider so that any necessary testing and evaluation can be carried out by a professional and your healthcare team can work on a treatment plan that will be individualized to your needs.

Any condition, whether acute or chronic, that impedes blood flow can result in reduced circulation to the feet and toes.

The sole of someone's foot.

For example, if the arteries, which are the blood vessels that carry blood from the heart to the extremities, become hardened or narrowed, you will have reduced blood flow to the feet and toes because the “pathways“ for blood to get to your feet are constricted or less patent (open to blood flow).

Consider the acute example when one of your feet becomes numb and tingly, and you experience the “pins and needles” feeling in your feet.

This uncomfortable sensation in your feet typically occurs after sitting cross-legged on the floor for an extended period of time or if you are sitting on one leg or foot for a while and then you get up to stand or walk.

While you were sitting on your leg or crossing your legs and putting pressure on one foot from the leg on top, the blood vessels carrying oxygenated blood and nutrients to your feet have become at least partially closed off.

You can envision a normal, patent blood vessel as a plastic drinking straw, and if you are sitting in a funny position and putting pressure on your leg, the straw can flatten under your body weight.

A person rubbing their foot.

This makes it very difficult for enough blood (or any appreciable amount of blood!) to get all the way down to your feet.

This reduced blood flow to the feet will then result in the acute symptom of inadequate blood flow to the feet, which manifests as the pins and needles foot feeling almost everyone is familiar with.

The good news is that as long as you have healthy circulation in general when you rectify your sitting position and get up to stand, the blood vessel that was being flattened or squished will open back up (the flattened straw becomes circular again).

Then, proper blood flow will return to your feet and toes, and within a matter of several minutes, the sensation of pins and needles in your feet should go away.

While this is an example of short-term poor circulation in feet, there are also chronic conditions that cause reduced blood circulation in feet and toes.

Note also that in the above scenario, if you have some of these chronic underlying conditions of poor foot circulation, it may take longer for the pins and needles in your feet to resolve. This can be another sign of bad circulation in the feet and toes.

A discolored foot.

Here are some of the common causes of poor circulation in the feet:

There are some additional risk factors for poor circulation in feet and toes, including the following:

  • Living a sedentary lifestyle or being generally physically inactive
  • Smoking
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Excessive caffeine intake
  • Excessive alcohol intake
  • Stress
A foot massage.

How to Improve Circulation In Feet

The best treatment for poor blood circulation in your feet and toes will be dependent upon the particular underlying causes of bad circulation in your own personal situation.

Addressing any medical conditions such as diabetes and arteriosclerosis will be necessary in order to have a genuinely effective poor circulation treatment plan.

However, in almost all cases, there are some things you can do to improve bad circulation in your feet.

Here are some tips for how to improve poor foot circulation:

#1: Massage

Massaging your feet can help bring blood flow to the feet and toes, particularly in acute instances where your feet are cold, numb, or tingling from either being outside in the cold with bad circulation or sitting on your feet or legs in a bad position for an extended period of time.

An array of fruits and vegetables.

#2: Quit Smoking

If you are a smoker, one of the best things you can do for your overall health, as well as to improve blood circulation to your feet is to quit smoking.

Smoking hardens, stiffens, and narrows blood vessels, reducing blood flow to the feet.

#3: Work On Your Diet

Cutting back on sugar, salt, excessive caffeine, and alcohol and increasing your intake of foods rich in nitrates, such as dark leafy green vegetables and beets, can help improve blood circulation in feet and toes.

It can also reduce the risk of atherosclerosis and arteriosclerosis, high cholesterol, and hypertension, all of which are risk factors for poor circulation.

#4: Exercise

Getting regular physical activity, as well as getting up consistently to break up long periods of sitting, can improve circulation.

#5: Keep Your Feet Warm

Wear proper socks and footwear in cold weather.

If you are interested in learning more about circulation and potential ways to improve blood circulation in the body, check out our guide to compression sleeves here.

14 Symptoms Of Poor Circulation In Feet + How To Improve It 1
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Amber Sayer is a Fitness, Nutrition, and Wellness Writer and Editor, as well as a NASM-Certified Nutrition Coach and UESCA-certified running, endurance nutrition, and triathlon coach. She holds two Masters Degrees—one in Exercise Science and one in Prosthetics and Orthotics. As a Certified Personal Trainer and running coach for 12 years, Amber enjoys staying active and helping others do so as well. In her free time, she likes running, cycling, cooking, and tackling any type of puzzle.

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