Does Exercise Help Varicose Veins?

Woman exercising to help varicose veins

Everyone knows that regular exercise improves overall health, but regular exercise may also help to prevent varicose veins. The Vein Specialists at ProVascularMD explain why, and share some helpful advice for individuals looking for a way to rid themselves of their vein problems.

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The Calf Muscle Pump
Varicose Veins and Physical Exercise
Can Varicose Veins Disappear with Exercise?
Can Varicose Veins Be Cured with Exercise?
Best Exercise for Varicose Veins

Varicose vein exercise specialist Dr. Michael Lalezarian in Los Angeles, California

Vein Specialist

Dr. Michael Lalezarian

Vein problems? We can help. No matter what stage of venous insufficiency you find yourself in, Dr. Lalezarian can help you get your legs back.

Dr. Michael Lalezarian is a double-board certified Vascular Interventional Radiologist specializing in minimally invasive vein treatments. He is a committed partner in the battle against the devastating consequences of venous insufficiency.

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“I have seen several vascular doctors in the High Desert, and I usually only end up seeing nurses and not the doctor. I had full evaluation on my first visit with the doctor. Very pleased and very grateful. Highly recommend.”

Carol S, February 2022

The Calf Muscle Pump: The Heart of the Leg

To understand the role that exercise plays in keeping your veins healthy, it’s important to understand the forces that drive circulation throughout the body. The heart is responsible for pumping blood out to the extremities, but veins are responsible for carrying it back to the heart. What then, is responsible for the movement of blood from the legs back to the heart? It’s actually a combination of pushing pressures from muscle contractions and pulling pressures from breathing. Importantly, these forces have help from valves along the length of the veins. Vein valves open to allow blood to move towards the heart and close to prevent backward flow.

A recent investigation of blood flow in the veins revealed that breathing is the primary driver of venous blood flow, but the medical literature has long recognized the critical role of muscle contractions in pushing blood through the veins. To test the importance of the calf muscle, one group of researchers tested the difference in blood flow by electrically stimulating the calf muscles of one leg while comparing it to resting muscles of another leg. They found that the muscle contraction produced a blood flow increase of up to 47% in people on bed rest. In fact, the pumping action of the calf muscle has earned it the name “the heart of the leg” by many medical professionals.

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Calf muscle pump activated during exercise to help varicose veins

Varicose Veins and Physical Exercise

In the above section we covered the calf muscle pump, but what is the relationship between varicose veins and physical exercise? In simple terms, varicose veins are caused by backups or blockages, or both. Backups can occur for a number of reasons: excessive pressure in the veins can cause them to stretch and fail, vein valves can break down causing backward flow, or the calf muscle pump may be underutilized causing blood to accumulate in the veins. Usually all three of these phenomena are at play to some extent.

It makes sense then that physical exercise can help to prevent varicose veins, but it’s not a cure-all by any means. Exercising the calf and other muscles in the legs keeps them strong and able to contract with sufficient force to circulate blood through the legs. Furthermore, frequent use of the muscles in the legs may prevent blood from accumulating, clotting, or adding undue pressure to the veins. These are the same reasons that flyers are encouraged to take frequent walks on the plane to prevent deep vein thrombosis (DVT), especially during long-haul flights.

Can Varicose Veins Disappear with Exercise?

It is unlikely that varicose veins will disappear with exercise. Exercise is a preventative measure against varicose veins, but once varicose veins have developed, exercise is not able to reverse the disease processes that caused them. However, exercise can help prevent worsening disease. Varicose veins are only the beginning of a broader condition called chronic venous insufficiency (CVI). Vein problems can progress to cause swelling, persistent pain, skin changes, and even ulceration. Exercise has been shown to prevent ulcer recurrence in clinical study, and frequent exercise likely has a positive benefit on vein disease in general.

Can Varicose Veins Be Cured with Exercise?

Exercise probably won’t cure your varicose veins, but it may help to prevent them if you’re at risk of vein disease or if varicose veins run in your family. If you have varicose veins and you’d like to get a fresh start on your legs, vein treatment helps to address the root cause of varicose veins. Sclerotherapy, vein ablation, and other methods can help with both symptoms and appearance, and many of our patients at ProVascularMD kickstart an active lifestyle after they have their veins treated.
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Woman doing calf stretches to help varicose veins

Best Exercise for Varicose Veins

The best exercises for varicose veins are exercises that use your legs. If your goal is to stave off varicose veins, you should target movements that flex and contract your calf muscles. The following exercises may be effective:

  • Walking, jogging, and running
  • Climbing stairs and walking inclines
  • Calf raises and toe flexes
  • Stretching
  • Yoga

It’s important to understand, however, that exercise isn’t always an effective prophylactic for varicose veins, even for avid athletes. While living a healthy lifestyle is certain to lower your risk of lifestyle diseases, many cases of varicose veins are just genetic.

If you’re struggling with your varicose veins despite your best efforts to prevent them, we’re here to help. Visit us at ProVascularMD in Southern California to learn more about your options.

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References

[1] Foy White-Chu, E., & Conner-Kerr, T. A. (2014). Overview of guidelines for the prevention and treatment of venous leg ulcers: A US perspective. Journal of Multidisciplinary Healthcare, 7, 111–117.
[2] Miller JD, P. D. (2005). Skeletal muscle pump versus respiratory muscle pump: modulation of venous return from the locomotor limb in humans. J Physiol (Lond), 563(Pt 3):925-43.
[3] HF, S. (1966). Muscle Pumping in the Dependent Leg. Circulation Research, 19:180-190.
[4] Shiotani I, S. H. (2002). Muscle pump-dependent self-perfusion mechanism in legs in normal subjects and patients with heart failure. J Appl Physiol, 92(4):1647-54.
[5] Broderick BJ, O. D. (2010). A pilot evaluation of a neuromuscular electrical stimulation (NMES) based methodology for the prevention of venous stasis during bed rest. Med Eng Phys, 32(4):349-55.
[6] Uhl JF, G. C. (2015). Anatomy of the veno-muscular pumps of the lower limb. Phlebology, 30(3):180-93.

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