If your legs ache, there can be many reasons behind this dull pain. It could be related to trauma or nerve injury, blood clots or dehydration. The arteries that carry fresh blood from your heart may be diseased and not working properly, or you may simply have overused or strained the muscles in your legs. However, achy legs can also be caused by varicose veins. In fact, in one study, 91 percent of varicose vein patients report experiencing leg cramps, particularly at night, as opposed to 75 percent of people without varicose veins. Leg achiness is one of the most distressing varicose veins symptoms, but why does it occur? To understand, you may need to know a little bit more about varicose veins.
First, let’s talk about how blood flows normally. When the circulatory system is functioning as it should, arteries carry fresh blood, rich with oxygen, from the heart and lungs and throughout the body. The veins then take the blood that has been used and contains carbon dioxide and waste products and send it back to the heart and lungs to be refreshed. However, sometimes the venous system doesn’t function properly, and that’s what causes varicose veins.
In the legs, veins must work hard to fight gravity and return blood to the heart. This is done through an amazing system, in which one-way valves keep the blood flowing upward, moving towards the heart and lungs. Over time, though, factors like hormonal shifts, excess weight, and too much time sitting or standing take a toll on the veins. The valves get weaker, and blood begins to flow the wrong way, backing up within the veins. This causes the delicate vein walls to stretch, bulge, and become twisted into varicose veins.
These veins are often painful and swollen, but what causes the cramping? Remember, the blood that pools in your veins are the blood that’s already circulated through your body. It’s deoxygenated and full of waste products. If it could get back up to the heart it would be refreshed and filled with oxygen and nutrients, but as it builds up in your veins, it leaks toxins into your tissues and muscles. This causes inflammation and irritation which results in burning, itching, and aching sensations, along with painful cramping.
Is there any way to relieve these leg cramps? There are some strategies you can try at home, and these can be very useful when a cramp happens suddenly.
- Stretch out your calf. You can loosen your calf muscles by stretching your leg and flexing your ankles, pointing your toes toward your shin. You might also find it helpful to massage your calf muscles.
- Try applying heat or cold. A warm bath or heating pad can relax tight muscles, as long as it’s not too hot. Too much heat can cause the veins to dilate and make your symptoms worse. On the other hand, if your muscle is inflamed, you can try using cold water or ice packs to shrink the veins and reduce the cramping.
- Get some exercise. Your calf muscles serve as a support system for your veins, helping them push the blood toward the heart and lungs. When your circulation is good, waste products don’t stay in the vein very long, and exercise can improve your circulation. Focus on working your calf muscles, doing exercises like walking, biking, and swimming, if you can. If you’re stuck behind a desk, even flexing your ankles will help keep your blood circulating.
- Drink plenty of water. Staying well-hydrated can help your circulation and keep your muscles from cramping.
How do you know if the leg cramps and aching you’re experiencing are caused by varicose veins? Sometimes, it’s hard to tell. In the early varicose vein stages, many patients do not have visible varicose veins. Sometimes, the symptoms are felt much earlier than the veins become visible. On the other hand, leg cramps can also be caused by peripheral artery disease, which narrows the arteries in the legs. That’s why if you are experiencing persistent leg cramps, it’s important to see a doctor who understands the circulatory system. A vein specialist can determine the cause of your leg cramps and offer treatments.
If the cramping is caused by varicose veins, there are many minimally invasive treatment options available. Your doctor may use laser treatment to close off the vein and reroute the blood to a healthy vessel. There’s also endovenous thermal ablation, which employs a catheter and radiofrequency energy to seal the vein, ambulatory phlebectomy, which removes damaged sections of the vein through tiny incisions, sclerotherapy, which uses a safe chemical solution to close the vein, or non-thermal vein ablation, which accomplishes the same thing using glue or medication.
Maintaining your vein health is important and seeking varicose vein treatment before your condition progresses to a later stage can prevent serious health problems like skin ulcers and blood clots. When you’re looking for specialists who can competently treat venous issues, trust the doctors at Premier Vein & Vascular Center. Our experienced and skilled team specializes in treating vein disease, not just to improve your comfort level but also to help you find long-term positive results. At our two clinics in the Houston and Cypress area, our board-certified doctors use the latest advances in vascular treatment to address the underlying cause of your symptoms. Contact us through our website or call 832-321-5355 to schedule a free vein screening and consultation.