Exercising with Varicose Veins: Truths vs Myths

Exercising with Varicose Veins: Truths vs Myths

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. 

Staying fit is a very important part of improving and maintaining good health, especially for those living with varicose veins. Prolonged periods of sitting or standing can be one of the leading causes of varicose veins, so leading an active lifestyle is key to mitigating risks.

Stretching, walking, and running are just a few of the ways you can keep your blood flowing and body moving. Not sure where to start? This guide will provide tips for your journey.

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 and you will likely need to consult a medical professional about varicose vein removal.

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. 

Low-Impact Exercises For Varicose Veins You Can Incorporate Into Your Daily Routine

We all know how important exercise is for our physical and mental health. And for those of us who are at risk of vein disease, keeping active every day is all the more important - but this is at times more easily said than done.  

But along with its many challenges, the past year has come with a few blessings in disguise, one of these being the unrivalled convenience of the at-home workout. After a year of lockdown, there is more video content freely available than ever before for those who wish to get active from the comfort of their living rooms, covering all levels and specific requirements.

As lockdown restrictions begin to ease, you don’t have to immediately renew your gym membership or sign up for classes. If the convenience and flexibility of working out in your living room have meant that you’ve actually kept up a daily exercise routine for the first time in your life, there’s no reason to stop!

For many, though, life can be so full-on that even a home workout can feel like too much of a time commitment. If you find yourself busy for most of the day and too exhausted to move in the evenings, these simple, low-impact exercises may be just what you need. In this article, we’ll show you how to lead a more active lifestyle - and improve your vein health - without making any major changes to your daily routine.

Any Chance To Walk Counts

If you’re older, pregnant, or have been shielding due to being more vulnerable, there are a number of simple exercises you can try without leaving home.

Walking around your house or garden - or even up and down the stairs - are all low-impact activities that are great for getting the blood pumping. By incorporating these into your daily routine you can easily meet doctors’ recommendations of exercising for 30 minutes per day.


Activities such as cycling and leg-specific exercises help the legs significantly. Because varicose veins can be a result of weak or damaged valves, working the muscles in those areas strengthens the veins so they can manage the flow of blood. Calf-raises, ankle rotations and leg lifts are some examples of leg-specific exercises.


Stretches, no matter how simple, increase blood circulation, enable muscles to work better, and improve performance in the other exercises as well as any other physical activity.

Small Changes That Make A Difference

If you have reduced mobility due to pregnancy or older age, yoga is another beneficial low-impact exercise to treat the symptoms of vein disease. The continuous movement encourages blood to flow around your body, while controlled breathing decreases your blood pressure. You can try practising yoga shortly before going to bed - this may have a positive impact not only on your vein health, but also on the quality of your sleep.

As a fun alternative, it’s been proven that dancing not only decreases tension in your body but also dilates your blood vessels, allowing blood to circulate through your body with greater ease.

Have you discovered any new favourite songs lately? If so, make a playlist, block off at least 20 minutes, and dance to your heart’s content! You’ll never tire of this fun medium-impact exercise, and your veins will thank you.

If You Literally Don’t Have Time...

If your busy schedule prevents you from managing a stable work-life balance, or you suffer from a more debilitating condition, you can still easily reduce the negative effects of varicose veins right from your desk.

During a video meeting, rock back and forth on your feet by gently alternating between lifting the heels and balls of your feet. Other options include flexing your toes and calves or lifting yourself onto your tiptoes to engage your calf muscles and force blood towards your heart. Your colleagues won’t notice these subtle movements and your pain will diminish!

If All Else Fails...

When you can’t bring yourself to exercise and need to rest after a long day, you can alleviate leg pain by lying down with your legs elevated. Hold your legs in the air for a few minutes or prop them up on some cushions at the same level as your heart.

Healthy Habits To Keep In Mind

Aside from exercise, there are a few other things you can do to keep your veins as healthy as possible.

Remember to drink plenty of water throughout the day, as hydration is essential for optimal blood flow. Eating a healthy diet rich in omega-3, potassium, magnesium and fibre will also complement your exercise regime by introducing more antioxidants into your blood.

If you’re in any pain, you can gently massage the surrounding area to help relieve further discomfort, while avoiding direct pressure to your veins.

The Best Way Forward

Ultimately, increased physical activity can have a huge impact on easing your varicose vein symptoms by helping blood get to the heart. The additional benefit of losing excess weight through continuous exercise is that it will also reduce added pressure on your veins and in turn help to alleviate pain.

The best exercises to combat the symptoms of varicose veins are low-impact, so it’s important to go gently if you suffer from vein disease. But bear in mind that the only way to truly stop varicose veins is through professional consultation and treatment, after which you’ll be granted a new lease of life!

When you decide what exercises work best for you, make an exercise plan with your doctor that includes when and how you want to do them. During the day, five to ten minutes every half-hour is a good place to start. As you maintain consistency and notice your progress, you can gradually increase your time limit. Depending on your physical capability, you might choose to stay indoors instead of going outside. If you can go outside, you can walk around your neighbourhood or cycle in the park. Stretching on the beach or doing a light hike also provides the opportunity to experience nature while staying active.

Vein Exercises You Can Do At your Desk

We all know that sitting for extended periods of time is unhealthy. But the fact is that for many people, a day at work means remaining seated for most of the day.

When it comes to our vascular health, we know that poor blood flow can worsen the appearance of varicose veins. And although we’d like to advise everyone to take short walks every few hours, we know that isn’t always possible.

But that doesn't mean that we have to surrender to a day of no exercise! Here are a few exercises that you can do from your desk to encourage blood flow to your legs. Ideally you can make a little routine of these exercises – try to repeat them every hour or so. And as with any exercise, remember not to do anything that causes you pain.

Ankle Circles

This one can be done even in the smallest of spaces. Lift your foot off the floor and then, while holding your leg completely still, trace as wide a circle with your foot as you’re able by only moving your ankle. Do 4 circles in one direction, then another 4 circles in the opposite direction. Put your foot down and then do the same with the other foot, 4 circles in one direction and then another 4. This counts as one repetition; try to do 3 or 4 full repetitions of this exercise before stopping.

Foot Extensions

This is similar to the previous exercise, but uses an up and down movement instead of circles.

Lift your foot off the ground and hold your leg still. Next, flex your foot backwards as if you were trying to point your toes back towards your knee. Hold this flex for 2-3 seconds. Next, gently relax your foot and then flex in the opposite direction, pointing your toes away from your knee and trying to form a straight line down your leg. Again, hold this for 2-3 seconds before gently relaxing. Try to do this 10 times with each foot.

Lower Leg Extensions

This is a good exercise that will also work your thighs, but you might find it difficult if you don’t have much space or much clearance under your desk. Extend your knee so you’re raising one foot as high off the ground as possible without lifting your thigh. If you can, try to raise your foot so that the back of your calf is parallel with the ground (again, desk space permitting). Hold this position for 5 seconds, then gently lower your foot to the floor. Repeat 5 times for each leg.

Foot Pumps

This exercise uses both feet at the same time. Sit down with both of your feet flat on the ground. Slowly push down with the balls of your feet so that you’re raising your heels up off the ground. Do this as gently and gradually as you can; it should take you 3 seconds to get your heels as high as you can raise them while keeping the front of your foot on the ground. Hold for 3 seconds then gently lower your heels again. Try doing this 10 times with both feet simultaneously.


OK, so we’re cheating a little with this one, as you can’t always do it while sitting at your desk. But squats are a great exercise for circulation, and you can do them when you take tea or toilet breaks during your day. If you’re in an open-plan office and don’t fancy exercising in front of all your colleagues, you can go into a bathroom stall for this one.

Keep your back straight and slowly bend down – the goal is to get your thighs parallel with the floor. Hold for a moment and then slowly raise yourself back up to a standing position. Try to do 10 squats every time you visit the bathroom.

Book-End Your Day With Walks

While these exercises will help to keep the blood flowing during the day, the best thing you can do for your overall circulation is to try to get in a short walk immediately before and after your work day. While we know that hectic schedules don’t always allow for this, if you can incorporate 20-30 minutes of walking into your daily routine, your body (and your veins!) really will thank you.

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