Have you had a look at your legs yet today?

Our legs usually don’t get the attention they deserve. Close to the ground, far away from our head, they are out of sight and out of mind. As a result, leg health suffers: early warning signs that indicate pathological changes are often not noticed – until it is too late.

“Legs Matter!” is both the title and the appeal of a British initiative to raise awareness for better leg and foot health. From 11 to 15 October, this alliance of eight non-profit health organisations is organising Legs Matter Week. The topic of wounds and their prevention is of particular importance.

The National Health Service spends 8.3 billion pounds (about 9.8 billion euros) a year on treating wounds, two-thirds of which is spent on chronic wounds, according to a recent study in the Health Economist.

A wound is considered chronic if it shows no signs of healing after eight weeks. Regardless of this temporal definition, some wounds are “chronic” because their underlying cause requires ongoing treatment. These include, for example, the so-called diabetic foot or circulatory disorders such as venous insufficiency and peripheral arterial disease. The latter is commonly known as “window-shopper’s disease”. As an interim conclusion, let us note that these wounds are most frequently found on the legs and feet – and the elderly are particularly affected.

A current survey similar to that of Great Britain does not exist for Austria. Comparisons with data from Germany suggest that the situation in this country is similar. It is already enough to ask around among the people who take care of our wounds.

More than just a number in a study is the experience of those affected themselves. Who doesn’t know someone who complains about aching legs, who has to sit down for a short while during a walk. Or they just stand still – in front of the shop window, looking at the displays until the pain subsides. So that no one notices. Although Austria is sometimes referred to as the land of murmurers with a wink, one often suffers silently. After all, you don’t want to be a burden to anyone. Pain? “That’s just the way it is when you get old.”

In a nutshell, there is hardly any public exchange about it. Not even when the pain turns into wounds and, in the worst case, people are confronted with the loss of their mobility, their freedom, their sense of life.

There is no cure for ageing, but there are nevertheless early signs that one can react to – in order to avoid or at least mitigate more severe consequences. The Legs Matter initiative recommends three simple points to which one should always pay attention.

  1. Has the skin on the feet or legs changed? This means both the colour and texture of the skin. Look for dry, scaly patches or red patches. If small cracks or insect bites do not heal within two weeks, this is a reason to become vigilant.
  2. Has the shape of your feet or legs changed? If they are often swollen, this is a sign that the circulation or lymphatic system is disturbed.
  3. Pay attention to your pain sensation! Both cramps and pain – in the case of circulatory disorders – and reduced sensation – e.g. caused by damage to the nerves in diabetes – should be taken seriously.

If there are warning signs, seeing an expert is recommended. The expert will help to clarify the possible causes of the changes. They can use special blood pressure measurements or computer tomography to determine circulatory disorders. For diabetics, it is advisable to take a close look at the blood values and tests to determine any sensory disturbances in the foot.

It is best to identify the problem before a chronic wound develops. If you do discover a wound, it is important to stay calm – and not look away. Experts in wound treatment report that the problem is often ignored as long as the wound can still be tolerated. But the sooner it receives professional treatment, the better the chances of healing. There is no getting around ageing. However, pain is by no means a part of it that you should simply accept. “That’s just the way it is” is a dangerously widespread attitude.

It is worthwhile to give your body time and attention even – not to say especially – in old age. And if you still feel too young to worry about your leg health: keep your eyes and ears open and pay attention to older people around you. If an older family member is complaining more and more about aching legs, it’s worth having a more in-depth conversation. You could make many future walks possible.

More information on the Legs Matter initiative on the Internet at: https://legsmatter.org /