Varicose veins are a common issue among adults at nearly any age, with an estimated 30% of the population diagnosed with a vein issue at some point during their life. Veins that appear dark blue or purple, visible beneath the skin, or twisted or bulging veins often cause ongoing discomfort, like aching in the legs, cramping or swelling of the calves, or itching around an affected vein. The causes of varicose veins vary from individual to individual, but the issue has been linked to a genetic predisposition to vein weakness, pregnancy, and sitting or standing for long periods of time. Exercise and sports, however, are not a direct cause of varicose veins, but physical activity does play a role in how vein issues improve or worsen over time.
According to Eddie Chaloner, a vascular surgeon that provides treatment for varicose veins in London, many believe that playing a sport regularly or exercising religiously makes varicose veins more uncomfortable or more noticeable. The truth is that exercise can be a factor in helping varicose veins by strengthening the muscles and vein walls impacted by the condition. He explains that people with weakened veins should not take exercise off their can-do list completely, but some care should be given to which activities are best suited for improving the look and feel of affected veins.
Exercise Dos and Don’ts
Physical activity and sports that allow for low-impact movements are by far the best for those who have varicose veins. Here are the best exercises for improving vein issues, and one to avoid.
Walking: this is the most common exercise that allows for strengthening of the legs and calf muscles. It helps improve circulation by pumping blood out of the veins and back to the heart, which provides for greater circulation in the veins of the legs.
Cycling: exercising on a stationary or road bike is another great way to improve varicose veins. Similar to walking, calf muscles are engaged which helps blood flow over time without harsh impact to the vein walls or the joints.
Swimming: another low-impact sport for individuals with varicose veins is swimming. Being in the water puts far less pressure on the legs and veins than other sports, and the elevation helps to relieve any pain or discomfort caused by varicose veins.
Lifting weights: although weightlifting is not altogether prohibited when varicose veins are present, it can put unnecessary pressure on the legs and abdomen which slows down blood flow. Individuals who prefer lifting weights as their regular physical activity should be careful to lift with the proper form, supporting both the stomach and the back in doing so.
Alternatives to Exercise
For some, the related symptoms of varicose veins like swelling and aching are not conducive to exercising or participating in sports on a regular basis. When that is the case, some relief can be found in compression stockings. The external pressure placed on the calves helps ease the flow of blood and subsequently reduces the pain associated with weakened vein walls. While this offers a quick fix, EVLT surgery may be the next necessary step. Through this common procedure, laser energy is used by a vascular surgeon to treat varicose veins in a minimally invasive way.
Individuals who have varicose veins are not excluded from living an active, healthy lifestyle, but it is necessary to know which exercises are helpful and which activities worsen the symptoms of varicose veins.