What causes spidery varicose veins? Get a leg up on ways to combat and prevent venous insufficiency and maintain the circulatory health of your legs.
Many of us go to the gym, and then park as close to the door of the grocery store as possible. Or we make a healthy lunch choice, and then take the elevator back to the office instead of the stairs. The simple choices we make every day affect the health of our legs.
The most common cause of leg circulation problems is venous insufficiency, a condition caused by impaired blood flow in the legs. The blood pools in the lower legs when the calf muscle pump doesn’t work properly.
When the muscles in the calf contract, they empty the deep leg veins, helping to push the blood up the legs, against gravity, back to the heart. This pump works with a system of valves in the veins that prevent the blood flowing back down again to the legs.
What causes the pump to fail?
The calf muscle pump may become weak with lack of regular use. Sitting or standing for too long can cause the walls of the veins to stretch, and the valves inside can become damaged and leak so that the blood simply moves up and down locally instead of returning to the heart.
Local pressure may also obstruct the upward flow of blood. This can be caused by increased weight, either due to obesity or pregnancy.
The calf muscles may waste due to changes in gait caused by back, leg, or joint pain; injury to muscles or nerves; illness; or for any reason that causes the foot to not flex fully.
Signs of venous insufficiency include
- pain, or feelings of heaviness, tiredness, aching, or restlessness in the legs
- swelling of the legs and ankles
- varicose or spider veins
- skin discoloration
- dermatitis-type issues such as rashes and redness
- sores or open wounds that won’t heal
Open wounds, or leg ulcers, are estimated to affect from 50,000 to 500,000 Canadians. Most people who suffer from leg ulcers are over age 65. Prevention is definitely more effective than trying to cure these issues. Read on for simple leg care strategies.
These veins are visible through the skin and may appear as blue, bulging, or twisted. Although they may be an early sign of venous insufficiency, they also may develop during pregnancy in an otherwise healthy woman due to hormonal changes, as well as the increased load being supported by the legs. Varicose veins often go away from a few weeks up to a year after the baby is born.
Many of the risk factors of venous disease result from our lifestyle, including
- high blood pressure
- jobs that require prolonged sitting or standing
Marius Benedict, a herbalist in Owen Sound, Ontario, refers to evidence that bioflavonoids, when consumed as part of a healthy diet, may help circulation. Dietary sources include citrus fruits and berries, red peppers, legumes, green tea, and red wine. Combinations of bioflavonoids are also available as nutritional supplements to boost our intake.
Following a healthy lifestyle and controlling body weight will help maintain good circulation in the legs. Maintaining the calf muscle pump requires activities that move the ankle joint and contract the calf muscle. Avoid sitting or standing still for long periods of time or crossing the legs; these activities all reduce the movement of blood back up toward the heart.
A number of workout routines that we perform for other health benefits, such as swimming, biking, and yoga, are also excellent for improving circulation, as well as helping with weight management.
Take a walk
Walking is an essential everyday activity to maintain the health of our legs. Try walking instead of driving when performing short local errands to provide a workout for the calf muscle pump.
Moisturize your legs
We frequently overlook the appearance of our legs except in warmer months when we want to shed some layers of clothing. But regularly moisturizing the skin on the legs is important, as well as being a good opportunity to check for any changes or small wounds.
Benedict recommends using emollient herbs, such as comfrey creme or ointment, to help moisturize and maintain the health of skin on the lower legs.
Try a herbal solution
Early signs of poor circulation in the veins of the legs may be treated using herbal remedies. Benedict recommends circulatory tonics and stimulants such as hawthorn, yarrow, and horse chestnut, as well as ginkgo and prickly ash. Pycnogenol, or pine bark extract, has also been shown to help symptoms of venous insufficiency.
Be sure to check with your health care practitioner before taking these supplements.
Put your feet up
Putting your feet up for short periods of time relieves pooling of the blood, providing relief from swelling and aching, but it doesn’t improve circulation in the long term. Long-term immobility without sufficient activity will actually worsen leg health due to changes within the blood vessels, such as reduced oxygen and nutrients getting to the tissues, as well as weakening of the calf muscle pump.
Keep the blood pumping in your legs by giving your hardworking limbs some care and attention. Healthy legs help us remain active and healthy for life.
The calf muscle pump
A few simple exercises will maintain the health of the calf muscle pump.
Calf raises when standing:
- Rise slowly up onto the balls of the feet, then slowly lower.
- Ankle rotations and foot flexes when sitting:
- Lift one leg and rotate the foot slowly one way several times, then repeat in the opposite direction. Repeat with other leg.
- Lift the leg and stretch the foot, then lift toes up toward the shin as far as possible. Repeat several times, then repeat with other leg.
Any time during the day:
Get up and move around the home or office after a period of sitting, and take the stairs whenever possible.