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How will varicose veins affect my exercise?

I'm a marathon runner who recently started to get varicose veins behind my knees and on my calves. I'm worried that running will be bad for them, but I don't want to stop training for marathons. How will exercising this much affect my varicose veins? How will my varicose veins affect my ability to exercise? What should I be on the lookout for?

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Doctors Answers (5)

First, many endurance exercisers think they have varicose veins when they don't. Prominent linear veins on the surface of your legs is not necessarily a varicose vein! However, a tortuous bulging vein with nodular lumpiness usually is a varicose vein. A quick consultation with a vein specialist can tell the difference between the two possibilities quickly and easily. If you do have varicose veins, a duplex ultrasound can determine their extent and sources, as well as provide rationale for treatment recommendations. While it is unlikely that they will adversely affect exercise or running, it is thought (but not proven) that running long distances may exacerbate varicose veins. Treatment cannot cure the problem, but can usually eliminate the current unwanted veins and decrease the chances of getting a blood clot. Warning signs include sudden acute swelling on one ankle and the sudden development of redness with tenderness and hardness of a previously soft vein (phlebitis).

These varicose veins may cause symptoms of leg pain, leg fatigue, itching, cramping and restless leg syndrome. The veins are no longer functioning and need to be removed in order to improve your circulation. Your running is putting more pressure on the veins and may lead to a quicker progression of the disease. The good news is that treatment can be done in the office with minimal discomfort.

Running is generally good for decreasing the symptoms of venous insufficiency. It will have no effect on the progress of venous insufficiency, in most people.

Exercise, including walking and running, is the best thing you can do for your veins. If your legs feel fatigued and heavy, then you might want to have them treated. You would probably benefit from a compression sock, such as the CEP socks, which are graduated compression socks that are great for runners, and that have shown to improve performance. Symptoms from the veins include heaviness, fatigue, aching, cramping, swelling, and skin changes. If you have any of these symptoms, then you should consider evaluation and treatment with a board-certified vascular surgeon.

Running is a good thing; however, genetics ultimately wins this marathon! You need to see a phlebologist (phlebology.org) and get a game plan. Closure of these veins is easily accomplished and may increase your endurance and speed.

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