How to Improve Blood Circulation in Your Legs

By Dr. Ben Kim
DrBenKim.com

Healthy blood circulation is an absolute must for healthy tissues. Strong and steady blow flow allows for constant exchange of nutrients and waste at the cellular level, and also promotes healthy flow of fluid through your lymphatic system, a key component of your immune system.

Being active and minimizing intake of refined carbohydrates and damaged fats are arguably the most important requirements for healthy blood circulation. Beyond taking these measures, a simple and powerful way of promoting strong and steady blood circulation throughout your legs is to massage the soft depression found at the back of your knees.

This area is called your popliteal fossa, and contains a number of blood vessels, nerves, and even components of your lymphatic system. By gently massaging this region, you can promote healthy blood flow and nerve tone throughout your lower extremities.

How does this work? Via the same principle that makes acupressure and acupuncture powerful therapeutic tools - by applying direct stimulation to vessels and nerves, you can actually encourage them to function at a high level. It's a basic law of life: lack of use leads to atrophy, while sensible use and stimulation of tissues invigorates them.

It should come as no surprise that a powerful acupuncture point - Bladder 40 - is located right in your popliteal fossa. And for that matter, just about all of the most powerful acupuncture points found throughout your body represent clusters of major blood vessels and nerves. Makes perfect sense, right?

Getting back to your popliteal fossa, you can locate it by feeling the underside of your knee while you're seated and your knees are bent at 90 degrees. Toward the thigh side of your popliteal fossa, you should feel tendons on both sides - these are tendons of your hamstring muscles. Toward the calf side of your popliteal fossa, you should feel the inner and outer heads of your upper calf muscle (gastrocnemius).

With your knee bent, this soft, fleshy area should "give" enough with palpation to allow you to gently dig around and feel a tender point or two. Located within your popliteal fossa are:

  • Several lymph nodes and lymphatic vessels.

  • Popliteal artery, which is a continuation of your femoral artery - these two arteries deliver blood to your entire lower limb.

  • Popliteal vein.

  • Tibial and common peroneal nerves, which innervate all of the structures in your lower leg.

Clearly, it's always prudent to check with your family physician before you begin any program of self care, including pressure work in your popliteal fossa. It's especially prudent to get clearance from your doctor if you have varicose veins or a family medical history of any health challenges related to compromised blood circulation.

But if you take things slow and listen to your body's response to massage of the popliteal region, you can almost certainly stand to experience improved blood flow, nerve tone, and overall health throughout your lower extremities.

Here's a look at the location of your popliteal fossae:

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With your legs are straight, especially when your leg muscles are taut while standing, you won't be able to access much of the contents of your popliteal fossa.

So you need to be seated or even lying on your back, with your legs resting on a foam roller.

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Even just sitting or lying in this position with gravity and your leg weight pushing your popliteal fossae into the foam roller can be enough to create positive effects on the vessels and nerves within.

Once you're comfortable in this position and you want to experience greater therapeutic value, try lifting your feet off the ground to increase pressure by just a smidge.

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To increase pressure and therapeutic effects a bit more, use your arms to slightly raise your buttocks off the ground.

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You want to feel a gentle but firm massage of your popliteal fossae. It's normal to feel some tenderness in this area - you just don't want to produce pain. If you feel significant discomfort, ease off and try applying less pressure.

The most effective way to massage the structures in your popliteal fossae is to rest your legs on a foam roller and slowly internally and externally rotate your hips. This creates a deep massaging effect on the structures in your popliteal fossae.

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Here's a brief video clip that shows how to externally and internally rotate your hips while resting the backs of your knees on a foam roller:

As with all exercises, strive to main regular and even breathing while you're rolling.

Massaging your popliteal region in this way for even a minute or two a day can go a long way towards keeping your legs healthy over the long run. Before discovering the foam roller earlier this year, I used to do this on myself, family, and clients with my hands and even sometimes my shin bone. But I've found that a roller can apply more effective pressure to this region than I can manually.

If you don't have a roller, the one that I continue to recommend can be found here:

J Fit 18-Inch Premium EVA Foam Roller

You might consider the 36" version instead of the 18" version, especially for this exercise, though I believe Amazon ships the 36" version only within the States.

For a look at other acupressure points that you can use to promote healthy circulation throughout your lower extremities, feel free to view:

Best Acupressure Points for Promoting Strong Blood Circulation Throughout Your Legs and Feet

More posts on foam rolling for a healthy body:

How to Foam Roll Your IT Band

How to Keep Your Hip Flexors Healthy

How to Foam Roll Your Hip Abductors

How to Stretch and Massage Your Inner Hip Muscles

How to Prevent and Treat Achilles Tendonitis

Health Benefits of Foam Rolling

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