Why Does Elevating Your Legs Help Varicose Veins?
A lot of at-home remedies for varicose veins don’t work, but elevating your legs really does.
A commonly recommended at-home treatment for varicose veins is elevating your legs. But why does this particular therapy work? What’s the science behind it? Simply put, it’s all about the effects of gravity on your blood flow. Here’s what you need to know.
It’s All About Gravity
Blood flows through the body via a complex system of arteries and veins. Arteries transport oxygen-rich blood to our organs and tissues. Once the blood passes through the organs and tissues, it’s up to veins to return the blood to the heart for another shot of oxygen.
Veins are able to push the blood to the chest with the aid of tiny valves that shut tight so that blood cannot backslide back into the vein. Nearby calf muscles also help pump the blood along as they contract. However, for any number of reasons — age, heredity, and obesity — the valves weaken and allow blood to pool in the veins. As the blood builds up, the vein pops out from under the skin and forms a visible, enlarged, and sometimes painful varicose vein.
The valves in the leg veins face the toughest task because the lower extremities are so far from the heart, which means those veins fight against more gravity than other veins or arteries. For that reason, it’s not surprising that varicose veins most commonly occur in the lower legs.
If you have varicose veins, you know all too well the pain and swelling caused by those enlarged twists of veins. Although the only way to completely eliminate varicose veins is undergoing one of several minimally invasive, outpatient procedures, elevating your legs regularly will bring temporary relief from the discomfort and lessen swelling. Here’s why:
- It gets blood moving in the right direction. When you elevate your legs above your heart, you’re giving the veins a chance to counteract gravity. As blood drains in the right direction, you’ll notice reduced swelling and pain.
- It reduces pressure in the veins. A buildup of blood increases pressure within the vein, which is already working hard against the pressure of gravity. Raising your legs alleviates that burden, and therefore, the pain and swelling.
For the best results, raise your legs six to 12 inches above your heart as you lie down in a comfortable position that supports your back. Place pillows under your legs, not just the ankles. If you lie with your legs straight or don’t elevate your legs higher than your heart, you won’t encourage the blood to circulate upward to the chest.
Ideally, you should elevate your legs three to four times a day for at least 15 minutes. Less than 15 minutes and you might not enjoy the full benefit of elevating your legs. When you raise your legs, wear loose-fitting clothing; tight garments will only restrict circulation.
Try to keep to a regular schedule of elevating your legs. Admittedly, that may be difficult if you work all day. Yet there are ways to sneak in some time for the activity. During your break time, find an empty meeting room where you can prop up your legs for a bit on a couch. If that’s not possible, take frequent breaks to walk around the office to work your calf muscles so the blood doesn’t pool in the veins. And always check with your doctor before starting a regular program of raising your legs to ensure it won’t worsen a chronic condition you may have.
Treating Varicose Veins is Our Specialty
Center for Vein Restoration offers a variety of treatment options for your varicose veins, from at-home remedies to minimally invasive surgeries. We’ll discuss each with you so you can make a decision about how to best treat your varicose veins. Contact us today for a consultation.