Can Varicose Veins Cause Leg Cramps?
If you have varicose veins, you’ve probably experienced painful leg cramps, particularly at night. Here’s why cramping is a common symptom of varicose veins.
Of all the symptoms of varicose veins, perhaps the most distressing are sudden and painful leg cramps. Without warning, the muscles in your legs seize up and ache. This symptom can be especially frustrating if it occurs when you’re trying to rest or sleep at night.
Leg cramps, specifically in the calves, are a common side effect of varicose veins, along with pain, swelling, and heaviness. In fact, one study recorded the incidences of leg cramps noted by varicose veins patients compared to the general population. When the numbers were tallied, the study found 91 percent of the varicose vein patients reported leg cramps versus 75 percent of those without the condition. Varicose vein patients also said the cramping occured most often at night.
Luckily, cramping caused by varicose veins can be managed or even eliminated with proper treatment, whether at home or in a doctor’s office.
Why Varicose Veins Cause Leg Cramps
Within our leg veins are tiny valves that open and close so blood returns to the heart after flowing through the veins. Unfortunately, the valves can grow weak over time and allow blood to back up within the vein wall. This venous reflux eventually enlarges the vein to the point where a varicose vein appears on the surface of the skin. That’s why varicose veins are often painful and swollen.
In regards specifically to cramping, the pooled blood in the vein is deoxygenated blood, which means it contains a high amount of toxins and very little oxygen. Oxygenated blood flows from the heart through the body via arteries, while veins pump the deoxygenated blood back to the heart where it gets a shot of oxygen and nutrients. However, as deoxygenated blood builds up in the veins, the toxins leak out to the tissues and muscles, causing cramping and painful muscle contractions.
How to Tame Leg Cramps
The best way to eliminate leg cramps once and for all is to undergo one of several minimally invasive surgical procedures that use either the heat from a laser, radiofrequency waves, or a safe solution injected into the vein to collapse it. Once the vein collapses, the damaged vein shrinks and blood reverts to nearby veins. The pain and swelling stops, and the bulging vein eventually disappears.
You can try at-home therapies to relieve the cramping, as well. These can be especially helpful when the cramp suddenly occurs and you can’t get medical attention immediately:
- Stretch the Calf Muscles. To loosen calf muscles, stretch your leg out and flex your ankles so your toes point toward your shin. You can also massage the calf muscles to unlock the contraction.
- Apply Warmth. Relax the tight muscles with a warm bath or a heating pad. Just make sure it’s not too hot; heat can dilate veins and worsens symptoms. If the muscle is inflamed, cold water or an ice pack shrinks the veins and can reduce cramping.
- Exercise. Strong calf muscles support the veins as they push blood back to the heart, and better circulation ensures blood filled with waste products doesn’t stay in the vein too long. Exercises that work the calf muscles, such as walking, biking and swimming, are best, but even if you’re seated at a desk all day, simply flexing your ankles keeps the blood moving.
- Keep Hydrated. Water boosts circulation. If you’re dehydrated, your muscles aren’t getting enough water and will cramp up.
Leg cramps may also be attributed to peripheral artery disease, or a narrowing of the arteries in the extremities. For that reason, it’s important to get a full medical workup if you suffer from persistent leg cramps without the visible signs of varicose veins. A vein specialist can perform an ultrasound on your leg to see what’s causing the problem.
Maintaining Your Vein Health
At the Center for Vein Restoration, using the latest in diagnostic and surgical techniques, we’ve helped thousands of patients overcome the pain, swelling, and cramping of varicose veins. Make an appointment with us today to learn more about maintaining your vein health.