Varicose veins are commonly associated with prolonged standing or sitting, pregnancy, a family history of vein problems, and with being overweight. Regular exercise and staying fit is helpful in preventing varicose veins, but what if you already have them? While some exercises are helpful, others may not be so beneficial and may even cause veins to worsen.
Running or high-impact exercises may make symptoms worse and aggravate varicose vein swelling. If you are an avid runner, try running on grass or on a softer surface like a synthetic track to reduce the stress on your joints and feet, and the strain on your legs. If possible, wear compression stockings when you run.
Weightlifting can increase abdominal pressure and straining during heavy exercise can reduce the flow of blood out of your legs returning to your heart. Blood can then pool and increase pressure in your leg veins leading to vein dilation and possible damage to delicate valves in your veins. If you do lift weights, consider higher reps with less weight. Try and exercise with your legs at the same level or above your heart. Don’t hold your breath when lifting—exhale when lifting and inhale when lowering weights. Other exercises which may worsen varicose veins include: sit ups, squats, lunges and crunches. The increased abdominal pressure during these exercises may increase pressure in the leg veins and contribute to varicose vein enlargement.
What are good exercises for your veins?
- Walking- The single BEST exercise for your lower extremity circulation. This low-impact activity will keep you fit while stretching and strengthening your calf muscles. This will help pump the blood out of your veins and improve blood return back to the heart.
- Cycling or using a stationary bike- These exercises also work the calf muscles and improve flow in the leg veins without putting too much stress on your bones and joints.
- Elliptical- Designed to mimic running motion and reduce joint stress.
- Swimming- An excellent activity for patients with varicose veins because the legs are horizontal, the muscles are exercising, and the external pressure of the water in the pool may even help your legs feel better.
What if I can’t exercise due to pain from my varicose veins?
- Rotate your ankles and rock your feet back and forth on the ground. This simple activity will increase the blood flow in your calf veins and reduce the risk of clotting. It is especially helpful when sitting for extended periods of time or on an airplane.
- Wear compression stockings. The external pressure on your legs reduces blood pooling in your calf veins. Knee high stockings are generally sufficient and are also quite beneficial during periods of prolonged standing or sitting, and during pregnancy.
- Limit wearing high heels as much as possible. The position of the foot in heels reduces calf muscle activity and impairs vein flow.
- Get rid of a few excess pounds. Extra weight puts additional pressure on your veins, increasing the size and symptoms of varicose veins.
In summary, patients with varicose veins can often improve the symptoms of their veins and reduce the likelihood of worsening with a few simple steps. Stay active. Begin a low-impact exercise program (such as walking or swimming) and lose a few pounds. Work your leg muscles occasionally when sitting or standing and wear compression stockings when you reasonably can. If symptoms persist, or if your veins are getting worse, give us a call and let us evaluate your leg veins and discuss treatment options.
Call 404-778-VEIN or visit www.emoryhealthcare.org/veincenter to request an appointment!
About Dr. Rheudasil
Mark Rheudasil, MD, graduated magna cum laude from Abilene Christian University in Texas and he earned his medical degree from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School in Dallas in 1983. He completed a general surgery internship and residency program at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia. Dr. Rheudasil also completed a fellowship in vascular surgery at Emory University in 1989.
Dr. Rheudasil is a diplomat of the American Board of Surgery and is a board certified vascular surgeon. He is a Fellow of the American College of Surgeons and a member of the International Society for Cardiovascular and Endovascular Surgery, and the North American chapter of the International Society for Cardiovascular Surgery. He is also a member of the Peripheral Vascular Surgery Society, the Southern Association for Vascular Surgery, the Emory Association of Vascular Surgery, the Atlanta Vascular Society, and the Georgia Surgical Society. He is also a member of the Medical Association of Georgia, the Medical Association of Atlanta, and the Atlanta Clinical Society. He is also certified as a Registered Vascular Technologist.
Dr. Rheudasil has published articles in several medical journals including The Journal of Vascular Surgery, American Surgeon and The Journal of the Medical Association of Georgia. He has lectured at the regional and national level on a variety of topics including current reviews of vascular surgery.