The human circulatory system is made up of a pump (the heart) and a delivery system (the blood vessels) for transporting blood throughout the body. The two types of circulation in the body are called systemic circulation and pulmonary circulation. Systemic circulation is responsible for bringing fresh, oxygen-rich blood to all the body’s tissues and organs, while pulmonary circulation is responsible for carrying oxygen-depleted blood from the heart to the lungs. Systemic circulation is controlled by the left side of the heart, pulmonary circulation by the right.
Though two distinct cycles make up the circulatory system, both cycles operate simultaneously and in concert. Blood fills the heart chambers and is pumped to the lungs and the rest of the body (organs, tissues, extremities) by the right and left ventricles, respectively. For the average person, this process repeats about 72 times per minute, though great differences in heart rate exist between people based on fitness level and activity status. Certain medications and health conditions can also affect the efficiency and capacity of the circulatory system.
Circulation is an important issue, especially as it pertains to the extremities. Blood flow to the points in the body farthest away from the heart, including the feet and toes, can become compromised for various reasons, which in turn affects tissue health in these areas. In extreme cases, prolonged insufficient blood flow to the extremities may cause tissue death and lead to amputation of the affected body part. Some of the most common circulatory problems that may affect the feet and toes include Raynaud’s, peripheral arterial disease, and diabetes.
Raynaud’s & PAD
Raynaud’s is a health problem involving the spontaneous narrowing of blood vessels in the fingers and toes. This condition causes temporary skin discoloration in the affected areas along with pain and discomfort, in many cases. Peripheral arterial disease (PAD) is a health problem in which plaque—a combination of calcium, fibrous tissue, fat, and cholesterol—accumulates in the arteries that deliver blood to the head, organs, and limbs. Plaque can harden arteries over time and decrease the diameter of blood vessels, which reduces the amount of blood reaching certain parts of the body, including the feet.
Diabetes is a chronic, or lifelong, condition in which the body is unable to maintain proper blood sugar levels. Foot problems are among the most common health concerns diabetics face. Several types of diabetes exist, yet they may all cause similar changes in the feet. Prolonged elevated blood sugar levels may lead to a serious health complication known as neuropathy—nerve damage or dysfunction. The nerves in the feet perform many important functions, and they may be particularly susceptible to diabetes-related damage.
Enabling Optimal Circulation in the Foot
Blood vessels run alongside nerves in many parts of the body, including the feet. In the foot, these structures travel together between the metatarsal bones—the long bones in the midfoot. Both the nerves and the blood vessels branch at the base of the toes before sending oxygen-rich blood to the toe tissues. Enabling natural toe splay is vitally important in ensuring optimal circulation and nerve function in the forefoot and toes. Most conventional shoes possess toe box taper, a design feature that compresses the metatarsal bones and squeezes the bundles of nerves and blood vessels that lie between. Correct Toes, a toe spacing product, helps improve blood flow and nerve health in this part of the foot by opening up nerve and blood vessel channels and reducing the effects of pinch forces associated with prolonged conventional footwear use. Correct Toes can be used in combination with men’s and women’s wide toe box shoes, while barefoot, or in wide slippers for this purpose too.
The Importance of Making Healthy Choices
Please note that while many shoes may be touted as wide, they’re often widest at the ball of the foot, not at the ends of the toes, where you need the width the most. It’s important to use Correct Toes in footwear that's widest at the ends of the toes (Note: Consider reading our article called Definition of a Healthy Shoe to learn more about what we believe constitutes foot-healthy footwear). A shoe that possesses toe box taper is the opposite of natural foot shape. Please also note that smoking is one of the principle underlying causes of many circulatory issues, including reduced peripheral circulation. Smoking significantly increases the risk of atherosclerosis and PAD, and several ingredients in tobacco cause narrowing of the blood vessels, which increases the chances of a blockage and, therefore, a heart attack or stroke.