Exercising when you have varicose veins

Varicose veins happen when the valves inside your leg veins don’t close properly. These valves help deoxygenated blood travel against gravity back to your heart and lungs. The valves are one way, so they open when blood is pushed up and close behind it to prevent it from falling back down – a bit like a lock gate in a canal. But sometimes there is a problem with the valve and it allows blood to leak back down the vein where it pools, putting pressure on the wall of the vein. Eventually the vein will stretch and bulge up through the skin.

It’s important to understand that exercise will not give you varicose veins. If you are going to get varicose veins, you are going to get them and there’s not really anything you can do to prevent them. It’s also important that you don’t let varicose veins be a reason not to exercise. Being active is good for circulation, strengthening your leg muscles and improving blood flow.

Many people are not troubled by their varicose veins, whereas others experience discomfort, itching and swelling and these symptoms often become more pronounced during exercise. This is because blood flow increases significantly when you are exercising – around five litres flow through each leg every minute compared with one litre when resting – so prolonged activities like long-distance running and cycling put greater pressure on your veins for long periods of time.

Some keen runners and cyclists find that varicose veins have an impact on their performance - pain and swelling in the legs will cause weakness and adversely affect endurance. If this is the case for you may find the following helpful:

  • Elevating your legs as soon as you can after your work-out to help blood flow back to the heart. Putting your feet up means that blood is not having to work against gravity as much, putting less pressure on your veins.
  • Wearing compression socks while you work out will help prevent your veins from swelling so much in the first place. The socks squeeze your calf and increase the rate at which blood returns to the heart. Some runners and cyclists choose to wear these anyway for optimum performance.
  • Look into having the problem vein removed. There are several ways that varicose veins can be removed without surgery so recovery time is very quick. An example is endovenous laser ablation (EVLA) a technique that uses a laser to destroy the vein from the inside without damaging any of the neighbouring tissue. The procedure is quick to perform and you will be able to get back to exercising soon after.

Varicose vein treatment is not normally available on the NHS as it is considered a cosmetic procedure, but most people who choose to undergo treatment feel it’s worthwhile. Cooden Medical Group’s Canterbury Clinic has regular open events for people to come and find out more about varicose veins, meet the doctors and find out about the different treatments. For further information, please visit our varicose veins page or call 01424 846 190.

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