May 7, 2021
When it comes to exercising with varicose veins, there seems to be a lot of conflicting advice out there. While suffering with vein disease, people are often unsure as to what the best course of action may be: should they be putting on their running shoes or resting up? In this article we unpack three myths - and three helpful truths - when it comes to varicose veins and exercise.
Myth: Exercise Makes Varicose Veins Worse (Or Can Even Cause Them)
Many people suffering with varicose veins are wary of exercising because they fear it will make their veins more inflamed and painful. There is even a preconception that certain exercises like running and cycling can cause varicose veins.
In fact, the opposite is true: there is ample evidence that demonstrates that exercise is extremely beneficial for the veins, and that regular exercise can help prevent them from appearing or worsening.
One of the reasons behind this misconception is the fact that veins often visibly bulge during or shortly after exercise - but in fact, this has nothing to do with varicose veins. This is a process known as filtration, a harmless bodily function that temporarily pushes the veins to the surface of the ski.
Truth: Exercise is Good For Varicose Veins
Put simply, varicose veins appear when (usually due to a a failure of the valves in the veins) the blood is unable to effectively make its way back up to the heart. The journey blood needs to take from the feet all the way back up to the heart is particularly challenging for the veins, and requires help from muscles in order to work against gravity. When exercising, blood flow is stimulated as the heart rate increases, and this helps to keep the blood moving in the right direction.
Regular exercise can help strengthen the calf muscles, which are essential for pumping blood up through the legs. What’s more, because muscles that regularly exercise need more blood, they respond by expanding the network of capillaries and growing new blood vessels, which is excellent for vein health.
For people who suffer pain or discomfort due to their varicose veins, exercise has also been shown to be a great way to relieve these symptoms. It’s important, though, to know which exercises to pick (more on this below!).
Myth: Exercise Can Cure Your Varicose Veins
Unfortunately, regular exercise alone is not enough to either prevent or cure varicose veins.
When it comes to prevention, a combination of exercise, a healthy diet and a regular sleep pattern are all essential to vein health. Other considerations, such as your job and whether it requires you to either stand or sit for long periods of time, are important to take into account, too.
If you’re already suffering with varicose veins,unfortunately no amount of exercise will cure them. This in no way diminishes the importance of exercising on a regular basis, as it can ease symptoms and prevent further varicose veins from appearing. It’s important, though, to remain realistic, and not tell yourself that a new fitness regimen can cure your varicose veins.
Truth: Exercise is Not a Substitute For Treatment
According to the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) guidelines, referral to a vascular specialist is a ‘key priority’ for individuals with vein disease, and individuals with symptomatic recurrent varicose veins or superficial vein thrombosis should always receive interventional treatment where possible.
At UK Vein Clinic, our team of medical professionals are experts in the field of vein health. After an initial consultation, they can offer tailored advice and a specialised treatment plan using state-of-the-art, minimally invasive procedures.
Myth: It Doesn’t Matter What Exercises You Do
While exercising can be hugely beneficial, some exercises may be too strenuous for those who suffer pain or discomfort as a result of their varicose veins.
Heavy lifting, high intensity interval training (HIIT) and squats can put additional stress on the veins.
While jogging can provide some relief and is a great way to stay fit, it’s important to remain cautious: this, too, is a high-impact exercise. Don’t go too hard, too soon - start with very short, gentle jogs, and build your way up as your body adapts, and do not continue running if it causes you pain. Using compression socks while running is also advised.
Truth: Low-Impact Exercises Are Best
Regularly doing low-impact exercises is the best way to ease discomfort, maintain fitness levels and promote vein health.
Walking, swimming, yoga and gentle bicycle rides are generally considered to be the best forms of exercise to help with circulation. These help strengthen the muscles and give you all the mental and physical benefits of staying fit while not putting any added pressure on the veins.
There are also a number of simple exercises that you can do at home that are great for easing discomfort, such as leg lifts and lunges.
To do a leg lift: begin by lying flat on your back. Lift one leg at a time. Hold one leg in the air for a few seconds, then switch legs.
To do a lunge: stand with your feet slightly apart, then step forward and bend your knee (make sure you keep your knee directly above your ankle). Hold this for a few seconds, then stand up straight and do the same with the other leg.
Remember that whether you have varicose veins or not, there is no one size fits all approach to exercising. It’s important to listen to your body and find a level of exercise that you enjoy and that fits around your lifestyle. Finally, if exercising does not provide effective relief from the discomfort you are experiencing or makes the pain worse, it is vital you speak to a doctor or specialist who can advise you on the best course of action.
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