It’s an interesting conundrum that when we think of body images and types, many desire and want that lean and toned look with the occasional glimmer of veins that denote below 10% bodyfat. Rippling muscles lined with venous decorations. And yet there is another type of venous appearance that most want to utterly avoid and those are the bunched, bulging varicose veins or spider veins that often appear in the lower extremities. The two are not exactly linked but it is a dichotomy of desire that one is not the other.
Varicose Veins are caused primarily from a weakness or a compromised valve in the circulatory system. Veins are made up of a series of one way valves that allow blood to flow in one direction around the body. These valves open and close in accordance with blood pressure. allowing the highway of transport that is the circulatory system to provide a continuous and consistent supply of oxygen rich blood to the body and then transport that de-oxygenated blood back to the heart and lungs where it can once again be filled with oxygen and re-transported around the system.
With Varicose veins, it is primarily the superficial veins of the leg that are at risk. The veins in the legs, with one way valves are important for transporting blood back to the heart. When walls of the superficial veins become weakened or compromised, the one way valves can fail and the one way system lets blood pool in the veins, causing them to swell and sometimes twist up and coil as in the small intestine. This creates the bulbous appearance of varicose veins that begin to appear under the skin.
Many factors can contribute to the onset of varicose veins and much of the research points to a hereditary factor in the weakness of the valves. females are often more at risk then men due to the female hormones of estrogen and progesterone being a factor in the widening of superficial leg veins. Other trauma such as Deep Vein Thrombosis, that weakens valves or vein walls can also be a precursor to this condition. Whilst the formation of the veins often doesn’t pose a major health risk, some people can experience swelling and a discomfort in the legs due to the swollen veins. Symptoms are usually worse in the morning than at night and can be alleviated by movement and getting the muscles to assist with moving blood in the right direction and out of the affected veins.
Movement is vital here to try and assist with varicose veins. Muscles can act like pumps as they put pressure on veins and capillaries, helping to move blood through the system. As the legs are working against gravity with blood, the one way valve system is vital for moving blood through to the heart. The muscles when they are worked, can help to literally push blood along this pathway and relieve the swelling created by the condition. Venous Reflux is the primary concern in the formation of varicose veins and as the name suggests, it is a movement of fluid (in this case blood) in the wrong direction that creates the problem. In the same way that the oesophageal sphincter can allow stomach contents back up into the oesophagus, so to the problem with the vein valves here creates a swelling and pooling of blood. Ulceration can (however unlikely) in veins with this problem, but is not very common.
Gentle massage can also help with moving blood through the veins and contrary to some popular opinion, massaging over varicose veins DOES NOT create further issues. Massage will not get rid of varicose veins but it helps with the pressure created by teh pooling blood. Keeping in mind that this condition is to do with superficial veins and that other conditions (such as thrombophlebitis or DVT) are a different condition altogether and massage in these cases may NOT be the most appropriate treatment. Also the type of massage that is involved with Varicose Veins will not involve deep pressure or aggressive work. The superficial nature of the condition warrants much lighter and sensitive treatment types such as lymphatic drainage and effleurage techniques.
Surgery that involves stripping the affected veins is a noted and often used surgical removal of affected ‘saphenous’ veins. This surgery involves removing part or all of the vein trunk and thus diverting superficial venous supply. This surgery is not conculsive and had a range of 5-60% success of non return of saphenous veins; THe issue here can be that these veins that are removed are actually no longer available for such conditions that may require further bypass such as leg or coronary bypass.
Scleroptherapy is another form of treament for the affected veins. This is where they are injected with a liquid that effectively shrinks the veins and thus removes the complication of pooling blood or a compromised valve. this form of treatment has not proven to be effective in the long term of treating the affected veins but in the short term (up to 5years) it does have a higher success rate of approximately 75% of success in the immediate 2 year period however these results tend not to be as successful following a 5 year period.
The health implications surrounding varicose veins are relatively minor in most cases of the condition. Some discomfort can be alleviated through treatment techniques however the long term effects are relatively minor in most cases of varicose and spider veins. They can be easily managed and treated by normal non surgical techniques and the understanding of how to manage the affected veins is relatively simple in design.
So whilst they may be unsightly and cosmetically unappealing, the appearance of this condition does not render an individual in need of direct life saving surgery. There are links to other conditions which should be investigated however there is not much need to panic when it comes to the appearance of varicose veins. They can be managed and directed in easily non surgical terms or can be addressed by other well documented surgical techniques. But fear not, the surgical path is not exactly necessary in most cases to keep the dreaded varicose veins at bay.