Can Athletes Get Varicose Veins?

If you are an athlete, you might think that you’re protected from various medical conditions, including varicose veins.  Unfortunately, there is a genetic component to developing varicose veins.  That means if your parents have varicose veins, you could inherit the condition, even if you’re in excellent shape.  Also, some athletic activities can increase your risk of developing varicose veins.  Find out more about the activities that put you at risk for varicose veins, as well as what you can do to manage your symptoms.  

Activities That Increase Stress on Veins

Increased pressure on the legs can lead to varicose veins. As an athlete, you might be engaging in activities that put you at risk.  Some activities that can intensify the stress on the legs include:

If you take part in these activities, you won’t necessarily develop varicose veins. However, intense weightlifting, horseback riding, and backpacking increase the pressure on your leg veins, which adds to the risk.  That doesn’t mean you can’t engage in these activities.  However, be mindful when adding to the intensity and take time off to rest.  Any activities that result in a valsalva maneuver, which is when you hold your breath and bear down, like when lifting heavy weight, can cause increased pressure in the leg veins and elevate the risk of varicose veins.

Exercises to Promote Vein Health

If you have varicose veins, healthy habits can help you slow the progression and alleviate the symptoms.  These activities won’t make the varicose veins go away, but they can make them more manageable.

As an athlete, you likely run as part of training. Fortunately, running can help you manage your symptoms if you have varicose veins.  It promotes circulation, which can give you relief from varicose veins.  Many symptoms are a result of pooling and stasis of blood within the varicose veins.  With running and most leg exercises, there are contraction of the leg muscles.  These muscle contractions are critical to the movement of blood in our legs against gravity and up to the heart.  The contractions compress the veins and force the blood up to the heart.  Once the muscles relax, the blood will be pulled by gravity towards our ankles.  Fortunately, in healthy veins, there are numerous one way valves that keep the blood from moving down.  The blood stalls in the vein until the next muscle contraction, which moves the blood forward again.  Once these valves become damaged, varicose veins begin to develop.  If your varicose veins start to act up during activities, it might be time to start wearing compression stockings.  These stockings prevent the blood from pooling in the dilated veins with damaged valves.  Other activities like swimming, walking and yoga can also help you manage your symptoms.  All these activities promote blood flow, so you should notice a significant reduction in symptoms.  Once you’re done exercising and if you still notice symptoms from your varicose veins don’t make the mistake of sitting around for hours at a time.  That will likely make things worse.  Elevate your legs on an ottoman, chair or pillows.  This will use gravity to your advantage and assist in blood flow towards your heart.

Nutrition to Promote Vein Health

You understand the importance of nutrition as an athlete.  The right nutrition can also help you manage your varicose vein symptoms.  A diet high in fruits and vegetables, low in sugar and plenty of water is a great place to start.  Great tasting fruits like oranges, strawberries, mangos, apples, grapefruits and many others are rich in vitamin C and bioflavonoids which promote good vein health.  Adding leaf greens like broccoli, lettuce, spinach and kale will add fiber to supplement a healthy meal.  Staying well hydrated throughout the day will help in keeping your vein walls tone and strengthened.  Avoiding processed food and high sugar content sweets can help in slowing the progression of vein disease.  These foods can cause inflammation and damage to the vein walls resulting in worsening of varicose veins. 

Learn About Your Treatment Options for Varicose Veins

Exercise and nutrition will help you manage your varicose veins.  However, if you are still having symptoms, you can undergo treatment for varicose veins.  Minimally-invasive outpatient treatments can close off these varicose veins, preventing blood from pooling in your lower extremities.  Treatments including radiofrequency ablation (RFA), endovenous laser ablation (EVLA), Varithena, and sclerotherapy  performed by Dr. Vinay Madan at the Center for Varicose Veins can finally relieve those symptoms of varicose veins and get you back to your workout routine without any downtime.

Author
Dr. Vinay Madan, MD, DABVLM Dr. Vinay Madan, MD, DABVLM Dr. Vinay Madan is a board certified Interventional Radiologist and Phlebologist with over 25 years of experience in treating vein disease. Dr. Madan has served as the Chairman of Radiology and Section Head of Vascular Interventional Radiology at Eastern Connecticut Health Network. Dr. Madan brings a wealth of knowledge which allows him to treat patients with cosmetic and medical vein disease in a caring and compassionate way.

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