They start making their colourful imprints on our legs usually by our 30s and often after a first pregnancy. I’m not talking about tattoos but something often as permanent: spider and varicose veins.
What’s the difference between spider and varicose veins?
Varicose veins are enlarged, protruding, ropy veins that can appear on the thighs, the backs of the calves or inside the legs. Spider veins are their smaller cousins, appearing closer to the surface of the skin on the thighs, ankles, feet and face, and often are red or blue. Varicose veins can be caused by weak or damaged valves in the veins. Normally these valves keep blood flowing to the heart, but if they’re weak, they allow the blood to flow backward and pool, causing the veins to enlarge and bulge. Spider veins can also be caused by the backflow of blood, as well as by hormonal changes, sun exposure and leg injuries. Vein issues tend to run in families and get worse with age. They are also amplified by having an occupation that requires a lot of standing, such as being a hairstylist, a nurse or a waiter. Here are 6 other things you may not know about spider and varicose veins.
1. They’re NOT caused by crossing your legs.
As a life-long leg crosser, I thought the small patch of spider veins that have recently formed on the inside of my left knee were caused by it being the frequent resting post of my right leg. Apparently not. While you probably shouldn’t start crossing your legs if you’ve never done so, medical experts from Dr. Oz to Duke University Health System, based in Durham, North Carolina, say there’s no scientific proof to confirm the connection between this sitting posture and vein problems.
However, being overweight creates added pressure on leg veins, which can lead to them becoming varicose.
While crossing legs looks not to be a cause of spider or varicose veins, the best sitting position for your leg veins is with elevated feet. Propping legs above heart level prevents blood from pooling in the lower legs.
2. High heels make spider and varicose veins worse.
We wear heels to look stylish and elongate our legs, but spider and varicose veins won’t make anybody’s gams look sexy. I’m not suggesting you toss every pump, wedge and stiletto, but wearing high heels daily impedes your calf muscles from pumping blood out of the leg.
As for what accessory helps your veins? It’s the garment many of our mothers and grandmothers wore that we swore we never would: compression hose. However, don’t fret, while compression hose are apparently effective, I’m not suggesting they’re the only solution, especially since I just gave you the bad deal on your heels…
3. Get moving to help your legs along.
Exercise improves blood circulation, as well as leg and vein strength, all things that help mitigate vein problems. Focus on gentle to moderate movements that work the legs, like walking, jogging, swimming and flexing the ankles and calf muscles.
4. Varicose veins aren’t always just a cosmetic issue.
While many people want to eliminate their varicose veins because of cosmetic concerns, these enlarged veins can also cause throbbing, cramping and swelling. And varicose veins can sometimes lead to serious health problems such as skin ulcers, bleeding and blood clots.
If you decide to seek medical treatment for varicose veins, there are alternatives to the former go-to: vein stripping, an often-painful procedure.
Endovenous ablation can be done in a doctor’s office with local anesthetic. For this treatment, a physician inserts a thin catheter into the enlarged vein, energy is directed through the catheter to heat up the inside of the vein, damage it and close it off. Either radiofrequency or laser energy are used to seal the vein, diverting blood flow to nearby healthy veins.
The most common treatment for both spider and varicose veins is sclerotherapy, in which a physician injects a solution into the vein. This causes the vein walls to shut or collapse, which stops the flow of blood and leads the vein to turn to scar tissue.
There are also simple laser treatments, in which a laser sends strong bursts of light to the vein making it slowly fade and disappear. Laser treatments can be used for mild forms of both vein issues.
If your family physician doesn’t treat veins, ask to be referred to a phlebologist, a vascular surgeon or a dermatologist.
5. Natural treatments may help.
Before going the medical route, you may want to try some natural approaches. [Note: The three herbs below can be used orally or topically. Always consult with your health-care professional before trying herbal remedies].
Horse chestnut extract is one of the most common herbs used for varicose veins, purported to help with pain and decrease inflammation. It contains an active compound called aescin that appears to help support the normal functioning of vessel walls.
Grape seed and pine bark extracts both contain antioxidants that seem to reduce leakage in veins, as well as inflammation in the legs.
Butcher’s broom, a member of the lily family, is believed to help increase collagen in blood vessels and improve circulation.
For the past couple of months I’ve been using a product called Reviva Labs Varicose Vein and Deeper Spider Vein Lotion. This paraben- and cruelty-free product contains citrus bioflavonoids, which are purported to rejuvenate blood vessels, plus horse chestnut and grape seed extract. I’ve been applying it to my legs every morning, and while the change hasn’t been dramatic, I think the spider veins appear less visible.
6. Your diet plays a role.
Just as straining from constipation can contribute to the formation of hemorrhoids (basically varicose veins “you know where”) it can also lead to vein problems in the legs. So, if it’s an issue for you, make sure you’re getting enough fiber and drinking sufficient water.
You may also want to decrease your salt intake. As we all know, eating too much sodium causes water retention, but what may not be obvious is that retention can create too much pressure on veins. In addition to the salt you add to food, look out for the sodium levels in packaged foods.
p.s. The lifestyle changes you make to help your veins will, of course, help the rest of you, too. To find some other simple ways to live a healthy lifestyle, check out my post on MindBodyGreen.com: “How Imperfection Can Help You Live a Healthy Life”.