Do You Have Varicose Veins? Here's How to Support Your Legs as You Age
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If you have varicose veins in your legs, you know that the condition can cause both physical and emotional pain. But there's good news—there are steps you can take to better manage your varicose veins, support your legs as you age, and increase your overall health. Ahead, our experts weigh in on how to do just that.
Understanding the Root Cause of Varicose Veins
Before you can support your legs and better manage your varicose veins, it's important to understand what causes them to develop in the first place. "Veins are an integral part of the circulatory system, bringing blood back to the heart. Inside veins are valves, which ensure the proper flow of blood," explains Dr. Ken Stevens, the owner of Premier Heart & Vein Care in San Luis Obispo, California. "When the valves are defective, blood flow is abnormal and becomes stagnant; this causes varicose veins." There are a number of factors that determine whether or not you'll develop varicosities. "Heredity, pregnancy, obesity, and prolonged standing are some of contributing factors," says Dr. Stevens. "Genetics can play a role, too. Certain genetic conditions predispose people to blood clots, which can also cause varicose veins."
Now that you understand what causes varicose veins, you may be wondering if there's anything you can do to prevent them from developing. It's as simple as moving more, whether you're in the thick of a workout or sitting at your desk. "Avoid prolonged periods of sitting or standing and be sure to move your legs frequently or flex your ankles because that will improve circulation," says Dr. Jeffrey Apple, board certified vascular surgeon and varicose vein specialist with VeinSolutions in Austin, Texas. "Additionally, I recommend that my patients elevate their legs to a position above their waist if they're experiencing symptoms, like swelling or pain."
Ultimately, though, an established exercise routine is key. "The best thing people can do to prevent varicose veins and alleviate symptoms is to participate in regular exercise and maintain an ideal body weight," says Dr. Apple. Water-based exercise can be particularly positive for vein health. "Swimming and pool exercises can be especially helpful as you age. This is a great way to support your veins because water provides an anti-gravity environment that's good for flexibility exercises," says Dr. Apple. "The water also 'compresses' the lower legs, similar to compression hoses."
Speaking of compression—constrictive clothing items, like compression socks, can also support your legs. "You can also wear support or compression stockings to prevent swelling and blood from pooling in the legs," continues Dr. Apple. "For athletes and runners, I recommend compression 'sleeves' which compress and cover the calves while exercising."
If you struggle with severe varicose veins, you may want to explore treatment options outside of lifestyle choices like exercise or accessories like compression sleeves. "There are new noninvasive techniques available now which have replaced traditional vein stripping," says Dr. Stevens. "This can involve closing the vein and rerouting the blood to healthy veins, as compared to physically removing them with an operation. The new techniques include sclerotherapy, which chemically closes the vein, or ablation which can use heat energy to do the same."
Larger varicose veins may require a more in-depth surgical intervention. "Surgery may be the treatment of choice if other options have not completely eliminated them," says Dr. Apple. "This is typically performed using a procedure called phlebectomy, where we remove the varicose veins to get the best cosmetic results with minimal scarring and to relieve symptoms of pain or swelling that often accompany them."