Ischaemia is a condition in which blood flow to a part of the body is reduced or stops completely, which can lead to cell damage and, in severe cases, cell death. Although it can affect any part of the body, it is most common in the extremities, especially the legs.
As physiotherapists, it is important that we understand ischaemia and how it affects our patients. In this blog post, we will discuss what ischaemia is, its causes, how we can prevent it, its treatments and how we can treat it as physiotherapists.
What causes it?
The condition can be due to a variety of reasons, such as a blockage in an artery or an injury to a blood vessel. Some of the most common are listed below:
- Atherosclerosis: This is a disease in which arteries become narrowed due to the deposit of fatty and other substances in their walls. This narrowing can restrict blood flow to organs and tissues, which can lead to ischaemia.
- Thrombosis: Thrombosis is the formation of a blood clot inside an artery or vein, which can block blood flow and cause the condition.
- Embolism: Embolism is similar to thrombosis, but instead of a clot forming inside the body, it is a clot that has formed elsewhere in the body and has moved to a smaller artery or vein, blocking blood flow and causing ischaemia.
- Vasospasm: Vasospasm is the spasmodic contraction of blood vessels, which reduces blood flow and can lead to ischaemia.
- Trauma: Trauma, such as a crush injury or fracture, can compress blood vessels and reduce blood flow, which can lead to vasospasm.
- Autoimmune diseases: Some of these diseases, such as lupus, can cause inflammation of the blood vessels, which can reduce blood flow and trigger it.
- Anaemia: This is a condition where there are insufficient red blood cells in the blood, which can reduce the amount of oxygen being carried to the tissues and trigger the condition.
What are the symptoms?
The symptoms of ischaemia vary depending on the area of the body that is affected, but here are some general symptoms that may be present in different types of ischaemia:
- Pain: This is one of the most common symptoms of ischaemia, which can be sharp, dull, burning or stabbing and can vary in intensity.
- Numbness or weakness: The condition can cause numbness or weakness in the affected area. This is because the lack of oxygen and nutrients can damage the nerves.
- Skin changes: It can also cause skin changes, such as paleness, redness or discolouration. It may also feel cool to the touch.
- Difficulty speaking or understanding: If it affects the brain, it can cause difficulty speaking or understanding what is being said.
- Breathing problems: If it affects the lungs, it may cause shortness of breath or a tight feeling in the chest.
- Visual disturbances: If the condition affects the eyes, it can cause blurred vision, loss of vision or eye pain.
What treatments are available?
Physiotherapy can play an important role in prevention and treatment. Here are some of your physiotherapy treatments:
- Aerobic exercise: This is a type of exercise that increases heart rate and breathing, thus improving blood circulation. Practised regularly, it can improve physical endurance and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.
- Occupational therapy: This type of therapy focuses on improving the patient’s ability to perform activities of daily living. It may include the use of assistive devices and adaptations to facilitate independence and reduce stress on the cardiovascular system.
- Stretching: Physiotherapists can teach specific stretching exercises that help improve mobility and flexibility, reducing muscle stiffness and improving blood circulation.
- Massage techniques: The physiotherapist can perform different types of massage according to the patient’s needs.
- Electrical stimulation: Different types of electrical currents can be used to achieve various therapeutic effects.
- Hydrotherapy: Hydrotherapy involves exercises in water to improve blood circulation and reduce stress on the joints. Water provides a low-gravity environment that reduces the load on the body.
It is important to remember that each patient is unique and that physiotherapy treatments should be tailored to the individual needs of each person. Therefore, a thorough assessment is necessary before designing a specific treatment plan.
How can we prevent it?
Physiotherapists can help prevent it in their patients by the following measures:
- Promote regular exercise: Exercise can improve blood circulation, which is likely to reduce the risk of developing it. Practitioners can recommend specific, personalised exercises for their patients according to their needs and limitations.
- Avoid prolonged sitting: Sitting for long periods of time can decrease blood flow in the legs, which increases the risk of developing thrombi and ischaemia. Physiotherapists can advise their patients to get up and walk regularly to improve blood circulation.
- Maintain good posture: Poor posture can compress blood vessels and reduce blood flow. Physiotherapists can teach their patients to maintain proper posture to prevent this.
- Control cholesterol and blood glucose levels: High cholesterol and blood glucose levels can cause damage to the blood vessels, which can lead to CAD. Physiotherapists can work with their patients to establish an appropriate diet and exercise plan to keep these levels under control.
- Use compression and bandaging: Physiotherapists can use compression and bandaging techniques to improve blood flow in people with oedema or chronic venous insufficiency, which can reduce the risk of the condition.
Ischaemia refers to a decrease in blood flow to a specific area of the body, resulting in a decreased supply of oxygen and nutrients to the affected tissues.
This condition can be caused by a variety of factors, including atherosclerosis, thrombosis, embolism, vasospasm, trauma, autoimmune diseases and anaemia.
Symptoms vary depending on the location and severity of the problem. The most common include pain, cramping, weakness, numbness, coldness and pallor in the affected area.
Exercise therapy and relaxation and breathing techniques can be effective in the treatment of ischaemia, but it is important to work together with other healthcare professionals to ensure that our patients receive appropriate treatment.
Finally, physiotherapists can prevent ischaemia by promoting regular exercise, preventing prolonged sitting, maintaining good posture, controlling cholesterol and blood glucose levels, performing massage and joint mobilisation techniques, and using compression and bandaging techniques.