What are varicose veins and why do they appear?
Varicose veins are swollen veins which can appear blue or purple and most commonly occur in the legs, particularly the calves.
Our arteries carry blood, which has been oxygenated by the lungs, from the heart to the rest of the body, and our veins carry de-oxygenated blood back to the heart. Because the large veins have to deal with gravity they have one-way valves which allow the blood to flow to the heart but prevent a backward flow. If the walls of the veins stretch and become wider, the valves do not function properly and this can result in a backward flow of blood, leading to a build-up of blood and a bulging of the veins.
Varicose veins are quite common in both men and women, although more women can be susceptible to them. They are mostly harmless and mostly do not require any treatment. However, in severe cases complications can arise, such as pain, bleeding, ulceration, inflammation or eczema. Treatment is then required and it can take different forms.
Risk factors for the development of varicose veins can include being overweight, standing still for long periods of time, being pregnant (due to the extra weight-bearing). There can also be a higher incidence of varicose veins the older one gets.
Can you run with varicose veins?
As long as you are not experiencing any pain or discomfort, you can keep running if you have varicose veins, although it would be wise for a doctor to examine them and give you an opinion.
If you are having problems you should definitely seek medical advice. Otherwise, there are ways you can help yourself so as not to worsen the condition:
- Run on more shock-absorbing surfaces such as grass, dirt tracks, athletic tracks.
- Ensure your running shoes have sufficient cushioning. If in doubt, consult the staff in your local specialist running shop. They will be able to assess the level of cushioning in your shoes and establish whether it meets your needs or not.
- When not running avoid standing or sitting still for long periods and aim to move around every 30 minutes to aid the circulation of blood.
- Wear compressive calf tights while running and/or when recovering in order to help the flow of blood back to the heart. Many people are familiar with wearing compression socks or stockings when on long-haul flights. The principle is to help squeeze the veins just the right amount so that the blood flow can be encouraged back to the heart. Try compression tights or compression socks. A range of sizes ensures that you can get just the right level of compression for you.
- Consider your running style to see if you can run more lightly, with less impact. Perhaps take a Chi Running course. Chi Running can help you to run more efficiently and effectively, plus more enjoyably!
Can varicose veins be treated?
If you have varicose veins to the extent that you feel you need attention there are treatments available via your doctor:
- Schlerotherapy, where a chemical is injected into the varicose vein.
- Laser surgery, where the varicose vein is heat-treated.
- Vein stripping, where the varicose vein is gently stripped or pulled out.
After surgery and the required amount of rest and rehabilitation, running can resume.
There is also a herbal treatment which you could employ to reduce the symptoms of varicose veins, namely extract of horse chestnut seed which can be taken internally or externally (externally is the preferred method for pregnant women). Horse chestnut seed tones the walls of the veins so that they do not stretch so much, thereby helping to keep the valves working well, and it also combats inflammation and swelling.
Vitamins are also used to help treat varicose veins. Homeopathy and acupuncture are methods which have been employed in their treatment too.
Can varicose veins be prevented?
Despite varicose veins sometimes being hereditary, there are ways you can reduce the risks of them appearing:
- Maintain a healthy weight so as not to put undue stress on your legs.
- Ensure you have good footwear and don't run in shoes which are past their best.
- Keep mobile when you are not running. Flex your calves, rotate your ankles.
- Maintain a good posture and don't cross your legs (this can restrict circulation).
- Make use of compression wear for your legs, especially your calves.
- Be sure to make time to relax and put your feet up sometimes! Putting your legs up against a wall after a run is a good way to help them recover. Prop them up on a pillow now and again. We make our legs work so hard for us when we run. We can return the compliment by looking after them!