Leg vein problems develop for many reasons, which are beyond our control; however, we can still take charge of our leg health and delay or prevent, in some cases, the appearance of varicose veins and spider veins. The amount of exercise we get, the clothes we wear, the foods we eat, and the way we control our body chemistry contributes a great deal to leg vein health.
Exercise is the single most important factor in the promotion of leg vein health. Through three 20-minute sessions of exercise a week you can strengthen the muscles of the calf (second heart) and improve circulation in your leg veins. Contrary to popular belief, jogging and running do not create varicose and spider veins, rather it prevents them by strengthening the muscles in the legs that help push blood back up to the heart.
Sample activities include:
- Ballroom Dancing
- Tai Chi
The objective of the conservative approach is not to get rid of veins that you already see but to help support the venous circulation of the legs in order to slow the development of new veins and to minimize symptoms. Conservative treatment methods will not cure or eliminate existing vein problems, however they will help slow the progression of the disease and alleviate symptoms such as swelling, aching, and cramping. As a result, they are viable alternatives to medical treatment for people who are sick, elderly, or pregnant.
The most popular conservative treatment modality is graduated compression stockings. Compression stockings maintain a gradient of pressure up the leg, tighter at the ankle, in order to aid the circulation of venous blood up to the heart. This gradient of pressure prevents the pooling that can stretch the vein and create the unsightly bulges and congestion of varicose veins. Certain lifestyle changes (see Prevention and Maintenance) can also help you manage some of the painful or uncomfortable symptoms associated with varicose veins.
Hormonal influence in the development of venous disorders is well-documented. During pregnancy, 60-70% of women develop spider and/or varicose veins. These veins are the results of hormonal changes, as well as physical changes due to the growing uterus and an increase in volume of circulating blood during pregnancy. Although most of these veins disappear within 6 weeks after delivery, pregnant women should wear compression stockings to encourage healthy blood flow.
Birth control pills and hormone replacement therapy can also contribute to the development of varicose veins and spider veins. Speak to your doctor if you have a family history of vein problems, family history of thrombosis, or any signs of troubled veins.
Lifestyle & Diet
A proper diet may play a role in leg vein health. The following dietary recommendations can help you achieve healthier legs:
DO keep within 10% of the recommended weight for your height. Obesity can stress your circulatory system.
DO follow a sensible low salt, high fiber diet. A high salt diet can cause water retention, water retention and constipation can put pressure on veins in the legs and abdomen.
DON’T lose or gain weight too quickly. Yo-yo dieting puts unnecessary stress on the body.
Clothing & Posture
DON’T wear tight garments. They can restrict venous blood flow at key vein junctures in your legs.
DON’T cross your legs. This posture is believed to restrict venous blood flow in your legs.
DON’T sit or stand for extended periods of time. Rotate your ankles and feet while sitting, take 10 minute walks once an hour, or go up and down on your toes to flex your calf muscles while standing to ensure proper circulation.
DO elevate your legs 6 to 12 inches above your heart at night and whenever possible during the day.
While natural alternatives will not cure or eliminate your varicose veins or spider veins, they can alleviate some of the symptoms associated with leg vein problems. In addition, taking preventative steps with any medical problem can help cultivate a healthy physical and mental state.
People have long believed that certain vitamins and natural herbs (vitamins C & E, flavonoids, butcher’s broom, gotu kola, and horse chestnut seed extract) are good for the venous system.
Horse chestnut seed extract and some flavonoids are known to improve the heaviness, achiness, and ankle swelling secondary to venous disease. In fact, this extract has been routinely used in Europe for many years and has been clinically tested in double-blind placebo controlled studies. In 1996, the medical journal “Lancet” reported that horse chestnut seed extract worked as well as compression stockings in decreasing the swelling and symptoms of chronic venous insufficiency. Horse chestnut seed extract is now available in capsules with a standardized dose of the active principle HCE50.
However, care must be taken when considering any natural remedy. Women who are pregnant and people suffering from other medical conditions or taking other medications should consult their physician before taking dietary supplements.
Very few studies have shown proven results from using topical creams in the treatment of vein problems. Spider veins are generally the result of damaged veins, which cannot be repaired by an external cream, although temporary appearance changes may be possible due to the vaso-constricting properties of the cream.
Barotherapy is a method proven to reduce local swelling through applying external pressure on the legs using compressed air packs or other forms of compression. It is a treatment reserved for people who have chronic swelling.
Electrical Muscle Stimulation
Today, you can find machines that put electrodes on the skin and stimulate muscle contraction to tone muscle. These have the added benefit of keeping the vascular system in good shape as well. Consider using such a device on long flights to prevent the development of venous disorders.
Legs are responsible for locomotion, balance, and weight-bearing for the entire body. Elevating or massaging legs can improve vein circulation and reduce symptoms temporarily.
In lieu of treatment, many people with varicose or spider veins use corrective makeup to hide the unsightliness of problem veins. Several manufacturers offer heavy-duty waterproof opaque makeup to diminish the appearance of veins (Covermark, Dermablend).
Support stockings with graduated compression are the most commonly prescribed conservative treatment. They are made of strong elastic designed to apply graduated degrees of pressure from the ankles to the hips. Support stockings help maintain pressure in calf muscles (the second heart) and prevent superficial leg veins from pooling with blood. While support stockings with compression were once unsightly and uncomfortable, popular hosiery manufacturers now make compression stockings that are attractive, comfortable, and available in a variety of colors, styles, and degrees of pressure. In some cases, compression stockings will be a part of treatment for larger varicose veins.