Can Varicose Veins Be Cured With Exercise?
We all know that regular exercise is good for our heart, lungs, brain, and our waistline. But how does exercise relate to the health of your veins, particularly if you have varicose veins? Can exercise prevent or cure varicose veins? Is it a myth that doing physical exercises can worsen varicose veins, or even cause them? What’s accurate?
When you exercise, blood is pumped through your arteries and veins, which helps keep them open and flexible. The heart pumps the blood through your arteries, and your leg muscles pump the blood through your leg veins. As your legs move, the calf muscles contract and squeeze the veins in your legs, which forces the blood back through your veins towards the heart.
When the one-way valves in your leg’s veins become weak or damaged, blood pools in the veins rather than returning to the heart as it’s supposed to. It’s this abnormal pattern of circulation within varicose veins, along with inflammation, that causes varicose veins and the associated symptoms like swelling, aching, or heaviness.
Varicose veins are a chronic and progressive condition, so exercise will not “cure” them. If you think about it, the problem is not with the muscles. The muscles of the legs are working effectively to push the blood up the legs. The problem lies not in the muscles but in the one way valves. In varicose vein disease the one way valves weaken (likely because of a genetic trait) so the valves can no longer hold the blood up after passing through the valves. The valves fail and blood backs down the veins with gravity. Even if you have very muscular legs it does not prevent this backward flow. The valves are failed and therein lies the problem.
However, exercise may help alleviate symptoms. Patients with varicose veins who exercise tend to complain less of symptoms of leg pain than do their counterparts with varicose veins who do not exercise.
If you have varicose veins, or have a family history of the disease, incorporate exercises that move your legs in smooth motions, such as walking, swimming, hiking, or biking. These low-impact exercises are ideal for strengthening and stretching the calf muscles without jarring the joints.
You can incorporate moving more into your daily routine, even if it’s as simple as taking the stairs instead of an elevator or parking farther from the store than you normally might. There are also other types of exercises that you can do anywhere throughout your day, even while sitting. Alternate flexing and pointing your feet while sitting to contract the calf muscles, or alternate standing on your tiptoes and then your heels for the same effect.
Leg lifts are also beneficial. Lie on your back and lift one leg above heart level. Hold for 30 seconds to allow the blood to circulate toward your heart. Lower and lift the other leg, then repeat for five lifts each leg. You can also prop both legs up so that they’re above heart level for ten to twenty minutes a day to give your circulatory system a boost.
Exercise also helps you keep excess weight off, which is helpful because being overweight adds to the pressure on your legs, including the veins. Talk to your vein specialist about which activity might be best suited for your degree of varicose veins and your lifestyle.
As the first physician dedicated solely to the treatment of vein disease in Tennessee, Dr. Douglass and East Tennessee Vein Clinic lead the region in experience and expertise of varicose veins. We treat veins differently than other clinics precisely because of our dedication to treating the root cause and full extent of each patient’s vein disease.
Visit us online at East Tennessee Vein Clinic, or call 866-281-VEIN, or request an appointment online today. We are offering free vein screenings through April. Please mention free screenings when making your appointment.