Varicose veins are the pregnancy gift that keeps on giving. Many women notice varicose veins for the first time during pregnancy, whereas others develop painful or unsightly varicose veins in the years after having children. While some women opt for surgery to treat their varicose veins, especially if they become painful, there are some steps you can take to help the appearance or discomfort of the pregnancy-related varicose veins in your legs. Here are five simple exercises to help your varicose veins look and feel better, even without surgery.
Do I Have Varicose Veins?
The answer is “Yes,” if you have:
- Veins that appear dark blue or purple in color
- Veins, especially on your legs, that are twisted and bulging like cords or ropes
- An achy, heavy feeling in your legs
- Burning, muscle cramping, or swelling in your lower legs
What Are Varicose Veins?
Varicose veins are enlarged veins that develop most commonly in the legs. They become more common varicose veins as you age, but can also become a problem during pregnancy.
In the human body, arteries and veins keep blood flowing through your body like the plumbing in a house. Veins carry blood back from your body towards your heart and lungs. Special valves keep blood from moving backward as it flows against gravity, up to your legs, towards your heart. With time, these valves can weaken, called venous insufficiency. This is the medical term for what causes varicose veins.
What Is the Connection Between Varicose Veins and Pregnancy?
Many women develop varicose veins for the first time during pregnancy because of higher progesterone levels, more blood flow to your uterus, and an overall increase in blood volume, stretching your veins. This is especially true for the veins in your legs and lower part of your body which have to work against gravity, to push blood back to your heart.
Your growing uterus and the pressure of your baby on some of these larger vessels can also slow blood flow, causing swelling of veins in your pelvic area, resulting in varicose veins in your vulva (vulvar varicosities) or rectum (hemorrhoids).
You can thank your mom if varicose veins are a part of your pregnancy- women whose mothers have varicose veins are more likely to develop varicose veins.
How Can Varicose Vein Exercises Help Me?
Physical activity is good for vein health. Each time the muscles in your legs contract, the muscles act as pumps, helping move the blood back up from your feet and legs to your heart. Physical activity also helps you avoid gaining excess weight, another risk factor for varicose veins. While exercise can’t cure your varicose veins, it can reduce your risk of developing more varicose veins.
Vein exercises can also improve how your existing varicose veins look and feel by reducing swelling and improving your pain. Regular exercise improves your overall body circulation which in turn helps your varicose veins. Walking, biking and swimming are great low-impact exercises that are easy on joints but great for helping circulation in varicose veins. If you’re not a regular exerciser, start slowly by going for a daily walk.
An Easy 5-Step Healthy Vein Exercise Plan for Pregnancy and Postpartum
As much as you are able, make time for movement breaks during your day, working in some of these circulation-friendly exercises:
- Walking. Try to walk for at least 30-45 minutes every day. Remember, you can break this up into smaller segments throughout your day.
- Climbing stairs. Choose the stairs every chance you get and say no to elevators or escalators. Raising your calf with each step up on stairs contracts the muscle, and squeezes blood back up your legs.
- Calf raises. This is another easy exercise that can be done multiple times throughout the day, whether seated or standing. Set a reminder on your phone or an alarm on your watch to do a set of 10-15 calf raises a couple of times a day.
- Toe flexes. As the end of the road for blood in your body, your toes and feet can swell after long days of standing or sitting still. Follow these steps to give your toes some love:
- First, lay down on your bed or on a rug on the floor and stretch your legs straight out away from you.
- Flex your toes forward and backward, repeating this movement 20 times per leg.
- Whether it is through a formal yoga or tai chi class or your own combination of feel-good poses, moving your body, rolling joints like your ankles and feet, increasing flexibility, and making your muscles contract and relax will help vein health. Specific stretches shown to help with venous insufficiency are:
- Lunges with alternate legs in front, front knee bent, back leg straight.
- Lying on your back with a pillow under your right hip (if your are pregnant). Find a ledge, chair, or several pillows to elevate and rest your legs up on, ideally above your head. This relaxing position is also good for sleep, so try this move every night as part of your bedtime routine. Be sure to sit up from this lying position slowly so that you do not feel dizzy or lightheaded. Postpartum, you can try resting your legs up the wall and lying flat on your back.
- Standing forward fold. Stand straight and fold forward, from the hips, bending your knees as you need to. Leave your head to dangle so that the crown of your head reaches toward the ground. Hold the pose while looking through your legs. To release, inhale, place your hands on the hips, and rise slowly.
What If Exercise Doesn’t Help My Varicose Veins?
As busy as new and expecting moms are, fitting in these five feel-good exercises will help your vein health in the long run. By adding exercise for varicose veins to your daily self-care routine, you may even help prevent the appearance of new varicose veins.
If these exercises aren’t helping your veins look or feel better, you may want to consult with a vein health specialist to learn about other treatment options. Watch for your veins becoming more swollen, warm, tender, or red which can be signs of a blood clot. Also, contact your doctor if they bleed, you have a rash on your leg or ankle, or if the skin on your leg changes color or thickens.