That ache in your calf, that tingling in your toes, and, oh, your sore and swollen feet! Leg pain can be more than just an end-of-day annoyance. Aches and pains in your lower extremities are usually caused by poor circulation. You can regain some of your strength and even improve the overall look of your legs and feet by using these simple techniques to stimulate blood flow.

1) Move it. Exercise is the number one way to improve circulation. Doctors say taking a simple daily walk can help. Start with a 30-minute brisk walk and build up to an hour. If pain comes on while you're walking, rest until it passes. Then start again. If you follow this regimen regularly, you should eventually go for longer periods before experiencing any pain.

What if you're trapped at a desk all day? Try some seated exercises such as:

  • Ankle rotations. Raise your foot, point your toe and rotate in one direction for 15 seconds. Switch feet and do the other for 15 seconds.
  • Foot pumps. Raise your foot and alternatively flex and point your toes.
  • Leg lifts. Start with knees bent. Lift one lower leg up until it's even with the knee or as far as you can go. Hold it for a few seconds and then try the other leg.

2) Rub, scrub, knead, and roll. Massage has many health benefits, including improving circulation. Even a simple self massage will do a wealth of good. Some tips: use a little lotion or oil and vary your technique, using your fingers, entire hand, or knuckles to work the leg, ankle, and feet. For a quick pick-me-up, get a massage roller from your local drug store. Sneak a few rolls along your legs and bare feet during work breaks or while watching television.

Another self-care option is body brushing. Using a firm (but not too scratchy) body brush, "brush" your skin in sweeping motions upwards towards the direction of your heart. Start at your feet and work your way up. This technique is believed to benefit circulation as well. If you have sensitive skin, you can try wetting the brush first or using a shower mitt in the bath or shower to lessen the friction.

3) Invest in good hosiery and socks. Specifically, you should wear graduated compression hose to treat swelling and achiness. These special hosieries are tighter in the foot and ankle, becoming looser as they go up the calf to stimulate circulation. For some vascular conditions, compression stockings achieve the same results as surgery, according to Paul R. Lucas, M.D., FACS, RPVI, a vascular surgeon at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore, Maryland.

4) Grab some Ginko. It's long been touted as an anti-aging wonder drug. While not all of the claims are based on facts, Ginko does appear to improve leg circulation. Before starting supplements, however, you should talk to your doctor. In large doses, Ginko may cause restlessness, diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting. You should not use it if you are on anticoagulants.

5) Pass the hot pepper. According to the Healing Food Pyramid presented by University of Michigan Health System, this pungent spice can improve peripheral circulation. Rather than looking for it as a supplement, trying adding it to your food and consuming it in its natural, ground form.

In addition to these measures, adopting a healthy lifestyle can improve blood flow and reduce discomfort significantly. Of course, it's natural to get a little weary after strenuous work, but it's time to talk to your doctor if you're regularly suffering from pain, burning, or discomfort in your feet and legs and self-care techniques don't help. Left untreated, conditions such as peripheral arterial disease or venous insufficiency can lead to edema, severe ulcers, or even heart attack.



"9 ways to fix foot pain." HEALTHbeat Harvard Medical School (2008). Harvard University Web Site. Web. December 20, 2011

 Clarkson, Priscilla, Ph.D., F.A.C.S.M. "Risky Dietary Supplements." Sports Science Exchange Roundtable 154.12 (2011): 781-788. University of Northern Iowa Web Site. Web. December 20, 2011

Ezekowitz, Michael D., M.D., Ph.D. "Peripheral Vascular Disease." Yale University School of Medicine Heart Book.  Eds. Barry L. Zaret, M.D., et. al. New York: Hearst Books, 1992. Web. December 20, 2011

"Healing Food Pyramid." University of Michigan Web Site. Web Site. Web. December 20, 2011