In our last post we began discussing how physically active people experiencing leg pain are possibly experiencing the effects of vein insufficiency. In this post we take a closer look.
During exercise your muscles require more oxygen, so veins dilate to increase the volume of blood flowing through the circulatory system—but if your veins are not working properly, that means more blood can pool in your legs. On the other hand, exercise is beneficial from a venous standpoint because anything that improves the function of the foot and calf muscle pumps to get the blood back up to the heart is good.
Walking is the best exercise for improving the muscle-pump function, especially following vein treatment. Although walking can help manage the symptoms, it does not prevent vein problems. Neither does exercise cause vein problems, except in extreme cases. Physical activities that require your legs to support heavier weight over prolonged periods of time, such as weightlifting or backpacking can put someone at increased risk for developing venous issues. Repeated exposure to increased intra-abdominal pressure, or pressure that is transmitted to lower extremities, can cause the normal system of valves and veins to weaken over time and become incompetent.
Repetitive motion sports such as endurance running, cycling and tennis can also put a lot of stress on your leg veins and over time may overcome a normal venous system.
In general, exercise (and working out the muscle pumps) is not detrimental for the vast majority of athletes who are participating in a more typical spectrum of activity. In fact, maximizing the efficiency of that system is beneficial.
Depending on each individual’s degree of vein disease, he or she may become more symptomatic because the foot pump no longer counters the vein insufficiency. One person’s level of activity, for instance, may be associated with the progression of vein disease if they have some pre-existing risk factors, such as age or family history.
While exercise can influence vein dysfunction, it doesn’t necessarily prevent it or cause it. But can poorly performing veins affect athletic performance? The short answer is yes. If the venous system is not working correctly, then the “extra” de-oxygenated blood (and blood waste products like lactate) can cause discomfort, cramping, fatigue, or other conditions that diminish performance.
In our next post about athletes, exercise, and veins, we’ll turn to treatments to fix the problem.