Contrary to expectations, perhaps, bulging veins during exercise have nothing to do with an increase in either blood volume or pressure in these vessels. In fact, both are known to decrease during stepped-up activity, including exercise. To explain the prominence of veins during exercise, it helps to understand the vascular system and its components. Blood that circulates throughout the body is pumped from the left ventricle of the heart. It first enters into the high pressure arteries, where systolic blood pressure, the highest pressure exerted there, is recorded around 120 mmHg (millimeters of mercury), and diastolic pressure, the minimal pressure exerted in these vessels, is recorded at around 80 mmHg. (Thus, normal blood pressure is typically around 120/80 mmHg.) The blood flows into smaller and smaller branches of arteries called arterioles. As it continues along, its pressure decreases due to the resistance of the walls of the arterioles themselves. The blood then enters the capillaries–the smallest blood vessels–which provide nourishment to, and remove waste material from, active cells. There are more than one billion of these in the human body and they are extremely small and thin. The pressure exerted by the blood as it enters the capillaries is approximately 30 mmHg.
This pressure decreases even further as the blood completes its nourishment functions and then leaves the capillaries to flow back toward the heart via the smallest veins–the venules. The venules combine into larger and larger veins until they feed into the right atrium of the heart as the vena cava. By the time blood enters the largest veins, pressure exerted by the blood stream is only a few mmHg and its return to the heart is moved along more by muscle activity and breathing than its own inherent force.
When exercise begins, the heart’s rate and strength of contraction increases and blood is quickly pumped into the arteries. As this is occurring, systolic blood pressure increases linearly with exercise intensity, rising to nearly 200 mmHg during high intensity aerobic exercise (and to more than 400 mmHg during weight lifting). Diastolic pressure, on the other hand, changes very little with aerobic exercise (although it rises during weight lifting). Simultaneously, the internal diameters of veins and venules narrow in a process called venoconstriction, forcing the flow of blood forward to the heart and enhancing their ability to receive blood coming from the capillaries. Overall, this process helps decrease the pressure in the venules and veins to at most about five mmHg.
Venous volume and pressure thereby decrease and are thus not the basis for the bulging. Instead, the process occurring in the capillaries as a result of the rise in arterial blood pressure during exercise causes plasma fluid otherwise resting in these tiny tributaries to be forced out through the thin vessel walls and into compartments surrounding the muscles. This process, known as filtration, causes a swelling and hardening of the muscle that is noticed during exercise. As a result of this swelling, cutaneous veins are pushed toward the skin surface, flatten to some extent, and appear to bulge. Such veins are more visible in persons with less subcutaneous fat. This bulging is neither good nor bad but simply a result of normal physiological mechanisms that result from the rise in arterial blood pressure during exertion.
- Why Do Veins Pop Out? – Normal and Abnormal Cases
- Bulging veins may be perfectly normal
- Why do my veins pop out when I’m not active?
- Varicose veins: large, bulging, and often painful
- What to know about hand veins
- Are Veiny Arms a Sign of Fitness, and How Do You Get Them?
- Tips and Tricks for Accessing Problem Veins
- What are bulging hand veins?
- What causes hand veins to bulge?
- Can bulging hand veins have a serious underlying cause?
- How can bulging hand veins be treated?
- 10 Varicose Veins Myths
- Myth 1: Varicose Veins Are Only a Cosmetic Issue
- Myth 2: Varicose Veins Are an Inevitable Sign of Aging
- Myth 3: Varicose Veins Are Strictly a Women’s Issue
- Myth 4: Running Can Cause Varicose Veins
- Myth 5: Varicose Veins Are Always Visible
- Myth 6: Standing on the Job Causes Varicose Veins
- Myth 7: Making Lifestyle Changes Won’t Help
- Myth 8: Surgery Is Your Only Treatment Option
- Myth 9: Recovery After Varicose Vein Treatments Is Difficult
- Myth 10: Varicose Veins Can Be Cured
- Why Do My Veins Stick Out After I Exercise?
- 13 Things to Know About Exercise and Varicose Veins
Why Do Veins Pop Out? – Normal and Abnormal Cases
Most of us have seen a vein or two pop out over the skin at some point. This is normal during exercise or exertion, or when an arm is tied off before donating blood or submitting a blood test.
In these situations, a vein pop-up isn’t an unpleasant surprise. More often, the question “why do my veins pop out?” comes up when we weren’t expecting to see any at all – in a fitting room trying on a new swimsuit, for example.
Bulging veins may be perfectly normal
It may be hard to accept, but there are times when it’s normal for veins to pop out without encouragement from tourniquets or the weightlifting machines.
Exercise, particularly weight lifting, resistance training, cycling, and running causes a rise in blood pressure that pumps blood to muscles, enlarging veins to the point where they may pop out a bit. Bodybuilders strive for this effect. Top bodybuilders have very low body fat, so their veins are apparent all the time. If you have low body fat, you’ll see your larger veins more often as well, including some that bulge out over the skin. This condition is called vascularity.
For some people, the appearance of popped-out veins is simply genetic, particularly as they age and skin becomes thinner. Veins are also quite visible in the hands and feet because there is little fat in them, to begin with.
For the most part, minor and moderate vein bulges are harmless. Medically speaking, there’s no reason to become concerned unless there is accompanying pain or swelling, or the vein becomes noticeably larger. In this case, you should definitely visit a doctor for an evaluation.
And if the sight of bumpy veins bothers you, rest assured: they can be treated and shrunk or removed altogether.
Why do my veins pop out when I’m not active?
You may notice your veins pop out even when you’re at rest, particularly in the forearms where there is less fat. This may be a good sign that you’re fit (assuming you do work out) or it could be genetics. The same would apply in the legs of enthusiastic cyclists and spinners. Context is everything, as Doug McGuff, M.D., author of Body By Science explains.
Or it could be a sign of a vascular obstruction, particularly if you experience any of the following:
• Skin changes like discoloration
• Muscle weakness
• Heavy feeling in the limbs
• Reduced mobility or pain
• Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
These abnormal symptoms are particularly concerning if they appear in the area around an enlarged vein. This can indicate an obstruction in the vein or artery, which causes swelling and compression in nearby blood or lymph vessels. Anyone with these symptoms should get evaluated for vascular disease immediately.
Varicose veins: large, bulging, and often painful
Varicose veins are the most noticeable kind of veins. They are actually pretty common. Many women develop them during and after pregnancy. Men get them, too, from strategic exercise and middle-age weight gain. Outside the bodybuilding community, they can be cosmetic annoyances or possible signs of vascular disease.
Like with any bulging vein, pain or weakness in varicose veins may indicate an obstructed vein or artery, so be sure to have them checked out of any of the symptoms listed above are present.
Varicose veins can be removed for medical or cosmetic purposes. We provide treatment for varicose and smaller spider veins in our Broward, Miami, and Delray Beach offices. Make an appointment today!
What to know about hand veins
Possible causes of bulging hand veins include:
Share on PinterestA person’s age may affect the appearance of the veins in their hands.
Age is a significant factor in the extent to which a person’s hand veins become pronounced.
On the surface, the skin starts to thin and lose its elasticity as a person gets older.
In the veins, blood can pool for a longer time due to weakened valves.
The pooling blood can make the veins a bit thicker, resulting in them appearing to bulge.
Fat on the hands typically helps make veins less visible. People who are underweight overall or have thin hands may find that their veins are more prominent.
When it is hot outside, the body sends extra blood to the surface veins to try to cool the body. Sometimes, this can affect how well the veins work. If this occurs, they may enlarge as more blood pools in the hands.
Conversely, a person may find that their veins become less visible when they are cold.
During exercise, a person’s blood pressure gets higher. As blood pressure rises, a person’s veins will push up against the skin. In most situations, the veins return to normal once a person has finished exercising.
However, if a person exercises frequently, their veins can start to bulge permanently in their hands and other areas of the body. This effect is particularly likely to affect those who frequently lift heavy weights.
A person’s genes can also play a role in the appearance of their hand veins.
People with an immediate family member who has bulging hand veins may be more likely to have prominent veins in this part of the body.
In some cases, a condition called phlebitis may be responsible for a person’s bulging veins.
Phlebitis is inflammation of the veins. It usually has an association with another condition, such as an infection, autoimmune disorder, or injury.
Varicose veins are more common in the legs, but they can occur in the hands as well. Varicose veins form as a result of the valves in these vessels not functioning properly.
Varicose veins make proper blood flow more difficult. The condition can cause gnarled, enlarged, and possibly painful veins.
Superficial thrombophlebitis is the swelling of a vein that is close to the surface of the skin. A blood clot is often the underlying cause.
A clot may develop following the prolonged use of an intravenous (IV) drip or other trauma to the vein. Superficial thrombophlebitis can be painful or uncomfortable, but it is not usually dangerous.
Deep vein thrombosis
Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) is similar to superficial thrombophlebitis. However, in DVT, the blood clot occurs in a vein that is deeper in the arm.
In people with DVT, there is a risk that the clot could break loose and make its way to the lungs, which could cause a pulmonary embolism.
Read more about the symptoms of DVT and the risks of a pulmonary embolism in this article.
Are Veiny Arms a Sign of Fitness, and How Do You Get Them?
If you want to achieve veiny arms, there are several things you can do to create more definition. You’ll need to safely develop muscle mass, lose body fat, and get your blood pumping with cardio.
Increase muscle mass
High-intensity weightlifting causes your muscles to enlarge. In turn, that causes your veins to move toward the surface of your skin and pop out more.
To build muscle, do strength-building workouts with a high number of reps, heavy weights, and short rest breaks between sets. Focus on exercises that strengthen the biceps, triceps, and forearm muscles.
To increase vascularity, include plenty of movements that require you to lift the weight over or above your head.
Reduce overall body fat
Your veins will be more prominent if you have less body fat under your skin covering your muscles.
Reduce body fat by upping your cardio and lowering your caloric intake to lose excess weight. A lower body fat percentage will allow you to lose the subcutaneous fat just below your skin, allowing your veins to be more visible.
Including lots of cardio in your workout routine helps you build strength, lose excess weight, and boost circulation. All these things can help achieve veiny arms.
In addition to longer workouts, stay active throughout the day, even if it’s for short bursts. Aim to do at least 5 to 10 minutes of activity every hour, even if you’re seated the rest of the time.
Follow a healthy diet that allows you to lose excess weight by maintaining a calorie deficit and eating plenty of muscle-building foods. This includes:
- meats, such as turkey, chicken breast, lean beef, and pork tenderloin
- dairy products, such as Greek yogurt, cottage cheese, and milk
- beans and legumes, like soybeans, chickpeas, and edamame
Hydration can also affect vascularity, so drink plenty of water along with healthy drinks, such as:
- herbal teas
- coconut water
Blood flow restriction training (BFRT)
To do BFRT while weightlifting, use blood-flow restriction cuffs or bands to put more pressure on your arteries and prevent blood from flowing out of your limbs and back to your heart.
BFRT increases vascularity and allows you to build more strength from lighter loads. This allows you to do more repetitions. You may only need to use weights that are 20 percent of your normal weight.
If possible, work with a trainer or someone certified in BFRT, since doing it incorrectly can cause nerve or vascular damage.
Avoid BFRT if you’re a beginner, older, or have any blood pressure or cardiovascular concerns.
1. Lower Body Fat Percentage
If you’re looking to get veins showing on your bicep, a good place to start is lowering your body fat percentage. Studies from the John Hopkins University show that low body fat can improve blood flow, allowing more oxygen to be delivered to the veins, blowing them up like a balloon. This will help uncover them from beneath your layer of skin.
Looking to burn body fat quick? Try these exercises.
2. Reduce Sodium Intake
When you have a high sodium diet, your body retains more water. And while some gym-goers will use this tactic during festival season to expand their muscles, it certainly won’t help with vascularity. The Australian recommended intake for sodium is only 460-920mg. To put that into perspective, a packet of plain potato chips contains between 170 and 185mg oer 28grams…yeah that’s a lot. Because water is stored between the muscle and skin, not holding excess water will help bring veins to the surface.
3. Increase Muscle Size
Like the theme of the rest of this piece, reducing the space between your muscle and skin is crucial to having rivers flow down your forearms. Exercising will decrease body fat, helping you on your way but increasing muscle size will make that process even quicker. It’s a win-win, you’ll have more defined arms while getting enviable veins on your biceps. If you’re after a temporary fix that will give you a good preview of what you’re up for, resistance training can increase blood flow to your muscles exposing your veins.
4. Drink More Water
While sodium increases water retention, drinking more water actually does the opposite. If you get through enough to H20 to help you visit the bathroom regularly, you’ll flush out any excess water while retaining important minerals to help with muscle functionality. Restricting your water intake to reduce the amount under your skin works but is extremely dangerous. Think Hugh Jackman in Les Misérables.
Tips and Tricks for Accessing Problem Veins
No two people’s veins are exactly alike. And while nobody enjoys being stuck, some people have relatively little trouble accessing veins to infuse clotting factor, while for others it’s a seemingly constant struggle. No matter what type of veins you or your child has, it helps to know these tricks when you find it difficult to access a vein:
When the body is warm, blood flow increases, dilating the veins and making them easier to find and stick. Try the following methods to see what works best for you:
- Apply a hot washcloth to the area you plan to infuse for several minutes before the infusion.
- Soak the hand or arm in warm water or run it under the faucet for five minutes.
- Take a hot shower or bath before the infusion.
- Gently massage the area over the chosen site. Do not slap the skin to help raise the vein—you may see it on TV, but it doesn’t work.
- Do some short, vigorous exercise, such as push-ups or jumping jacks.
Increase blood flow to your arm and hand by letting gravity do the work.
- Lie on a bed or sofa and let the arm you plan to infuse hang down. Slowly making a fist or squeezing a ball and releasing it over and over will also increase blood flow to the area.
- Swing the arm around several times like a windmill. Centrifugal force ensures blood will enter the arm, dilating the vein, and have a harder time leaving.
When the body is properly hydrated, veins become more dilated. Try to take in extra fluids the day before an infusion. If kids don’t want to drink water, a sports drink or juice is fine. Avoid trying to drink a lot of fluid the night before an infusion to make up for a lack of hydration earlier—you’re likely to end up with disrupted sleep from having to go to the bathroom a lot overnight.
Sure, it’s easier said than done when you’re about to stick a needle in your vein, but tension can further constrict veins, making infusion even more difficult. Put on some relaxing music, breathe in and out calmly and don’t be hard on yourself if you have difficulty—you can do this.
You’ve seen the crazy photo of cyclist Pawel Poljanski’s insane leg veins after his 70-hour Tour de France pump. And the Rock boasts a pretty impressive bicep vein, too. Plus, go to any bodybuilding competition, and you’ll see a whole slew of guys with impressive vascularity as well.
What all these veiny guys have in common is that they are in tremendous shape. But is vascularity really a sign of superb fitness?
First, let’s take a look at the reason your veins pop in the first place.
Your arteries carry blood away from your heart to the tissues throughout your body, like your muscles. Your veins—which have thin walls and dilate easily—pump the blood back toward your heart.
“The venous outflow is slower than arterial inflow, causing a back-up of venous blood causing higher pressure in the veins,” says Doug McGuff, M.D., author of Body By Science. That increases pressure causes the veins to “pop” out. That’s the pump you get.
But what you’re doing also plays a role in the pop, too.
“Swelling in the muscles pushes the veins out to the surface,” says Spencer Nadolsky, D.O., author of The Fat Loss Prescription. “Your muscles swell when working out and push the veins closer to the surface of your skin, which makes them more pronounced.”
You probably notice your veins popping more during weight lifting than when you’re simply taking a walk or doing other kinds of light cardio.
In general, higher-rep weight lifting with fast concentric movements—say, the part of a biceps curl when you bring the weight up toward your arm—would trigger the biggest pump, says Dr. Nadolsky.
“High intensity interval work can produce this effect as well,” says Dr. McGuff. “Muscular loading and fatigue drive arterial inflow into the muscle, so exercise that triggers this will produce venous engorgement.”
Dumbbell Push-Ups to Pump You Up:
Okay, so your veins tend to pop when you’re working out, but does how veiny you get actually depend on how fit you are? Well, sort of.
The leaner you are—meaning, the less subcutaneous fat you have covering your muscles—the more pronounced your veins will look, says Dr. Nadolsy.
But it’s not just about being lean: Having low body fat along with upped muscle mass is the magic combination for veins that pop, even when you’re at rest. So in some ways, pronounced veins are an indirect sign of fitness.
Related: Why It’s So Hard to Maintain Single-Digit Body Fat
That’s because muscle has something called “residual tension at rest,” which provides some resistance against venous return, says Dr. McGuff. Your veins carry blood to the heart, and when you exercise, the increase in blood flow creates a sort of blood backup in your veins, creating higher blood pressure. That compresses the returning veins and causes the blood to dam up and engorge the veins at the skin surface. So the more muscle you have, the more residual tension at rest you have, which means your veins are become more dilated.
“Combine that with a low level of body fat and the veins will really ‘pop’,” he says.
So yes, vascularity while you’re at rest can be a marker of fitness, but context is everything, Dr. McGuff says.
For example, sometimes vascularity can be a marker of excess stress, with increased secretion of the stress-hormone cortisol, or over-production of the hormone aldosterone, which causes your body to hang on to sodium. As a result, your body retains water and makes your veins swell, he says.
The veins can also be engorged due to damage, or because of varicose veins or hemorrhoids, Dr. McGuff says (Here’s everything you ever needed to know about hemorrhoids).
But your vascularity also depends on your genetics, too.
“Some may be very lean but with little vascularity and some can have more fat and still have some vascularity in cases,” says Dr. Nadolsky.
Bottom line, it most likely is a good indicator that you’re fit, but it’s not a given.
“You can be really fit and not have a lot of veins showing though,” says Dr. Nadolsky (Want to get fit fast? Try The 21-Day MetaShred from Men’s Health).
Emily Shiffer Emily Shiffer is a former digital web producer for Men’s Health and Prevention, and is currently a freelancer writer specializing in health, weight loss, and fitness.
Some people are not bothered if the veins on their hands are visible. For others, prominent bulging hand veins can feel like a nightmare – unsightly or even a sign of their age. What causes hand veins to bulge and what can be done? Leading vascular surgeon and pioneer in endothermal laser ablation Mr David Greenstein explains.
What are bulging hand veins?
Bulging hand veins are not pathological – in fact, everyone has bulging hand veins. These veins are not like varicose veins in the legs; they are quite normal. However, for some people, they can be very unsightly. They are not a medical problem, but are purely cosmetic; patients who want treatment purely want it for aesthetic reasons. However, when even celebrities like Madonna and Sarah Jessica Parker have been unfairly treated by the press for having such visible veins on their hands, who can blame them?
Patients may be young, fit athletes, who may be slim, who are very conscious of these big veins on their hands, forearms, or upper arms. There tend to be more female patients than male, although men do ask for it.
You sometimes see it in patients as they get older. They lose skin tone and fat, so the skin starts to sag and the veins become more prominent. As women get older they may complain about having “old ladies’ hands”. This phenomenon is common in women in their 40s and 50s, as they become more self-conscious about their age. They can put make-up on their faces, but not their hands, which some patients feel gives away their age. Some men also feel that the veins on their hands and arms are unsightly as they age.
In general, men have more prominent hand veins than women, but seek help less often. This may be because they are not as self-conscious of their veins – indeed, some may consider it part of having a muscular male physique. On the other hand, some men don’t like the appearance of their veins.
What causes hand veins to bulge?
They can occur in very fit, healthy people. They can occur in people who exercise a lot, and have no fat on them. The veins then stand out – they may be thought of as athletic-type veins.
In the elderly, it tends to be a phenomenon that occurs with age, which we have no control over. It occurs more in the women than in men. Interestingly, if you are overweight, you tend not to notice it too much – the fat buries the veins. The elderly people who want treatment tend to be healthy and look after themselves.
Can bulging hand veins have a serious underlying cause?
Only on extremely rare occasions. No one has ever come to me with bulging hand veins that have had a serious cause. Unusual but serious causes of bulging hand veins include abnormalities in the thorax (chest) and extra ribs (known as “cervical ribs”). In extremely rare cases, these unusual conditions can cause an obstruction to the blood flow. As the blood flowing through the hand veins will go back to the heart, an extra rib or a tumour pressing on the vein obstructs the blood flow, and it causes veins to bulge.
How can bulging hand veins be treated?
No two patients are the same. We discuss the options with each patient and decide on a treatment plan, and each plan is bespoke to the individual patient. The treatment plan is usually a combination of three therapies.
- Endothermal laser ablation – a treatment I helped pioneer. A laser fibre as thick as a hair is passed into the vein, where it emits energy to destroy it.
Some treatment plans only involve one or two of the above options. All can be performed with a local anaesthetic, and all achieve good results, with very high patient satisfaction.
When someone has a visible cephalic vein, the one that runs vertically over the biceps, you can usually assume they’re fit as hell. But it takes more than a few sets of dumbbell curls to get that wayward road map look. Of course, genetics play a role, but since you can’t choose your parents, you have to be smart about training. Vascularity comes down to a few key factors: strength, leanness, and “pump.” Here’s how to make those veins pop.
Watch What You Eat
You could be the strongest, most genetically vascular guy on Earth, but if your veins are buried under a layer of fat, nobody’s going to see them. Losing the excess fat will unearth your veins and muscles, giving you that bodybuilder physique.
Here’s the bad news: Cutting body fat means changing your diet. “If you want the veins in your arms to pop, you need to keep your portions in check,” says Paul Salter, a registered dietitian, strength coach, and the nutrition editor at Bodybuilding.com. “Men can expect to display a significantly enhanced web of veins when entering single-digit body fat.”
Salter suggests a fat-loss phase with the aim of losing 0.5 to 1.0 percent body weight each week for 10 to 14 weeks. For instance, if you’re 200 pounds, you’d need to restrict calories enough to lose one to two pounds a week — a significant cut if you’re already reasonably lean.
Aside from watching portion sizes and eating “clean,” cut back on carbs and sodium. These nutrients play a role in fluid retention, and if you’re retaining fluids, your skin “plumps,” giving you a bloated look — something you probably want to avoid.
Don’t Overlook Cardio
As you develop your cardiovascular capacity, your body creates a more efficient structure of veins and arteries to deliver oxygenated blood to your working muscles. Thus, you become more veiny. But instead of hitting the treadmill for a long, steady-state jog, focus on HIIT work. “Bodyweight, boot camp-style exercises that place more demand on the muscular system than the cardiovascular system work well here,” says Brandon Mentore, a strength coach and nutritionist. For instance, try a Tabata workout consisting of burpees, mountain climbers, skaters, and jumping lunges. Rest one minute after each full Tabata, and repeat five to six times.
Strength Train for Size
The more muscle you develop, the more vascular you become, so size should be your primary goal. Follow a rep scheme between eight to 12 reps for multiple sets, with no more than 30 seconds between sets. “This triggers a massive pump, taxes the vascular system, and increases lactic acid in the muscles,” Mentore says. “All three of these components are triggers for increasing vascular density.”
But don’t spend all day cranking out curls — the biceps are a smaller muscle group than pretty much all of your major upper body muscles, including your triceps and shoulders. Focus on compound exercises that hit all your major muscles, like pull-ups, bench press, rows, dips, and push-ups. Then, use isolation exercises to take each muscle group to task. And because your biceps is smaller overall, training it should be a smaller component of your overall routine.
Just remember, load is important. Push yourself to failure by the end of each set to maximize hypertrophy. And don’t forget about grip: According to Mentore, exercises where grip is a limiting factor, such as pull-ups or farmer’s walks, are a trigger for the vascular system of the arms.
Finish Your Routine With a “Pump”
“Chasing the pump” is basically a form of training that pushes as much blood as possible to a muscle or group of muscles to “fill out” your veins and maximize a vascular appearance. While this type of training can facilitate the development of a stronger vascular system, the immediate appearance of bulging veins doesn’t last, but it’s a good, temporary fix for looking stronger. There are different methods for “chasing the pump,” but here’s one quick arm-assault finisher from personal trainer Jimmy Minardi of Minardi Training:
Complete the entire interval three times through, using the max weight you can for your skill level. Perform 10 reps of each exercise the first round, 15 reps the second round, and 20 reps the third round. Only allow 15 seconds of rest between sets.
Captain’s Chair Triceps Dips
Captain’s Chair Knees to Knuckles
Straight Bar Biceps Curl
Flat Bench Press
For access to exclusive gear videos, celebrity interviews, and more, subscribe on YouTube!
10 Varicose Veins Myths
If you have ropy, blue blood vessels in your legs, you may think that they’re unsightly but don’t cause any overt symptoms. Yet for some people, varicose veins can cause skin damage and, even worse, lead to dangerous blood clots.
They’re incredibly common: Varicose veins affect about one in four U.S. adults, or about 22 million women and 11 million men between ages 40 and 80.
Your leg veins face an uphill battle as they carry blood from your toes to your heart. Small flaps, or valves, within these vessels prevent blood from getting backed up on this journey, and the pumping action of your leg muscles helps push the blood along.
But if these valves weaken, blood can pool — primarily in the veins of your legs — increasing pressure in the veins. As a result of this increased pressure, your body tries to widen the veins to compensate, causing them to bulge and thicken, and leading to the characteristic twisted appearance of varicose veins.
To help you learn the facts about these enlarged veins, we’ve set the record straight on 10 sometimes confusing pieces of information, including who gets varicose veins and why, health problems they can cause, and treatment options.
Myth 1: Varicose Veins Are Only a Cosmetic Issue
“A lot of people are told by primary care doctors or others that varicose veins are a cosmetic issue only, when oftentimes they can be much more than that,” says Kathleen D. Gibson, MD, a vascular surgeon practicing in Bellevue, Washington.
“A significant percentage of patients with varicose veins will eventually develop symptoms,” says Pablo Sung Yup Kim, MD, assistant professor of surgery at Mount Sinai’s Icahn School of Medicine in New York City. “The most common include dull achiness, heaviness, throbbing, cramping, and swelling of the legs.” Other symptoms include severe dryness and itchiness of the skin near varicose veins. People with varicose veins are also at an increased risk for a dangerous type of blood clot known as deep vein thrombosis.
Other not-so-common signs and symptoms, found in less than 10 percent of patients, include bleeding, skin discoloration, skin thickening, and ulcer formation — all due to varicose veins, says Kim. Unfortunately, once you have skin damage, it’s usually permanent.
“It’s very important to seek medical advice if you have varicose veins and experience symptoms — before changes in the skin are irreversible,” he says.
Myth 2: Varicose Veins Are an Inevitable Sign of Aging
Aging definitely worsens varicose veins, though not everyone gets them. “It’s a degenerative process that gets worse and more prominent as we age,” says Dr. Gibson. But young people can get varicose veins, too. While the average age of patients treated in Gibson’s practice is 52, she and her colleagues have treated patients as young as 13.
If you’ve got varicose veins, it may run in your family. “The cause of varicose veins is primarily genetic,” Gibson explains.
Changes in hormone levels also come into play as a risk factor for varicose veins. “Your risk can be made worse, especially by pregnancy,” she adds.
Myth 3: Varicose Veins Are Strictly a Women’s Issue
While varicose veins are more common in women, men get them, too. About one-quarter of adult women have some visible varicose veins, compared to 10 to 15 percent of men.
Steve Hahn, 51, of Kirkland, Washington, first noticed in his twenties that he had varicose veins in his left leg after he sprained his ankle playing basketball. When he injured his knee about 10 years ago, he noticed that the varicose veins had become more extensive.
“After about five years of thinking about it, I finally had them treated,” he says. “Both of my legs felt very heavy all of the time at this point, as opposed to just after walking a golf course or playing tennis or basketball.”
After treatment, Hahn says, “I feel like I have new legs.” The heaviness is gone, as is the ankle swelling, which he didn’t know was related to the varicose veins. And as a side benefit, he adds, he looks better in shorts.
Myth 4: Running Can Cause Varicose Veins
Exercise — including running — is usually a good thing for your veins. “Exercise is always good for the circulation,” Kim says. “Walking or running can lead to more calf-muscle pumping and more blood returning to the heart.”
“Being a runner doesn’t cause varicose veins,” adds Gibson, though there’s controversy about whether exercise makes them worse or not.” Compression stockings can help prevent blood from pooling in your lower legs during exercise. “For patients who haven’t had their varicose veins treated and are running, I recommend compression. When you’re done running and are cooling off, elevate your legs,” she says.
Myth 5: Varicose Veins Are Always Visible
While the varicose veins you notice are right at the surface of the skin, they occur deeper in the body, too, where you can’t see them. “It really depends on the makeup of the leg,” Gibson says. “If you’ve got a lot of fatty tissue between the muscle and the skin, you may not see them. Sometimes surface veins are the tip of the iceberg and there’s a lot going on underneath.”
Myth 6: Standing on the Job Causes Varicose Veins
If you have a job that requires you to be on your feet a lot — as a teacher or flight attendant, for example — you may be more bothered by varicose veins. But the jury’s still out on whether prolonged standing actually causes varicose veins. “People tend to notice their varicose vein symptoms more when they’re standing or sitting,” Gibson explains.
RELATED: Steer Clear of These 9 Artery and Vein Diseases
Myth 7: Making Lifestyle Changes Won’t Help
Your lifestyle does matter, because obesity can worsen varicose veins, and getting down to a healthy weight can help ease symptoms. Becoming more physically active is also helpful. “Wearing compression stockings, doing calf-strengthening exercises, and elevating your legs can all improve or prevent varicose veins,” says Andrew F. Alexis, MD, MPH, chairman of the dermatology department at Mount Sinai St. Luke’s and Mount Sinai Roosevelt in New York City.
Myth 8: Surgery Is Your Only Treatment Option
The only treatment available for varicose veins used to be a type of surgery called stripping, in which the vein is surgically removed from the body. That’s no longer the case. While this procedure is still the most commonly used varicose vein treatment worldwide, according to Gibson, minimally invasive procedures that don’t leave scars have become much more popular in the United States.
Endothermal ablation, for example, involves using a needle to deliver heat to your vein, causing it to close and no longer function. While the procedure doesn’t leave a scar, it can be painful, and you may have to undergo sedation before being treated. “You have to have a series of injections along the vein to numb it up; otherwise, you wouldn’t be able to tolerate the heat,” Gibson explains. You may need to take a day off from work to recover, as well as a few days off from the gym.
Some medications, called sclerosing agents, close a vein by causing irritation. Others are adhesives that seal a vein shut and don’t require the area to be numbed. Gibson and her colleagues have helped develop some of the new technologies and products used in treating varicose veins, including adhesives.
Milder varicose veins can be treated by dermatologists with non-invasive approaches, such as laser therapy and sclerotherapy, says Dr. Alexis. “For more severe cases where symptoms may be involved, seeing a vascular surgeon for surgical treatment options is advised.”
Although treatment for varicose veins means losing some veins, you have plenty of others in your body that can take up the slack, explains Gibson. “The majority of the blood flow in veins in the leg is not on the surface at all; it’s in the deep veins within the muscle,” she says. “Those deep veins … are easily able to take over for any veins that we remove on the surface.”
Myth 9: Recovery After Varicose Vein Treatments Is Difficult
Newer treatments have quicker recovery times. “These procedures can be performed in an office within 20 to 30 minutes with no recovery time. Patients can usually return to work or daily activities on the same day,” Kim says.
Myth 10: Varicose Veins Can Be Cured
Treatments are effective, but they aren’t a cure, Gibson says. Sometimes, varicose veins can make a repeat appearance after treatment. “What I tell my patients is it’s kind of like weeding a garden,” she says. “We clear them all out, but that doesn’t mean there’s never going to be another dandelion popping out.”
Why Do My Veins Stick Out After I Exercise?
Even though I feel amazing after working out, usually I don’t see any instant change in how I look. Except for one spot: my arms. I’m not talking about bulging biceps (I wish). After exercising-even after something like running, not necessarily upper body day-the veins on my arms stick out for hours. And to be honest, I don’t hate it! But the other day, I was gazing in admiration at my vascularity, when suddenly I wondered, Is this, um… normal? Like, have I actually been slowly dying of dehydration every time I’ve been feeling like a ripped badass? (See: 5 Signs of Dehydration-Besides the Color of Your Pee)
Here’s what’s actually happening, Olson says: Say I’m running or lifting weights. My muscles are contracting and pushing down on my veins. But at the same time, the muscles are demanding more blood. “If your veins don’t dilate, blood won’t get to your muscles,” Olson explains.
Great! So are bulging muscles ever something to be worried about? “Only if there are other symptoms like heart palpitations, nausea, or excess diaphoresis,” (I Googled it, it means sweating) she says. “But alone,” Olson adds, “dilated veins are normal during and after exercise-or just when it’s hot out even if you aren’t exercising,” (Heat can slow you down, but these 7 Running Tricks Help You Speed Up in Hot Weather.) Good news if you’re like me and you’re into the veiny arm thing.
- By Mirel Ketchiff @mirelbee
If you have varicose veins, you may find yourself with questions about exercise: including: Can I exercise with varicose veins? Will exercise make my veins worse? Are their exercises for varicose veins that I should and shouldn’t be doing? Maybe your just wondering, what should know about exercise and varicose veins?
First, you should know that varicose veins are common. About 30% of adults have these bulging, blue, twisted veins on their legs. i Varicose veins are caused by dysfunctional vein valves that do not work well. Blood sometimes flows backwards through these valves and the backflow of blood causes the vein walls to stretch.
While it’s recommended that exercise should be a part of any treatment plan to help your veins, you do need to keep a few things in mind when it comes to exercise and varicose veins.
13 Things to Know About Exercise and Varicose Veins
1. DO talk to your doctor – Before you begin any new exercise program, talk to your doctor to make sure that you can safely exercise.
2. DO listen to your body – Always listen to your body. If exercise hurts or seems to make your veins worse, you should stop and talk to your 6. doctor.
3. DO warm up – Start any exercise session with a warm up to get your muscles ready for activity. ii
4. DO take walks – Walking is one of the easiest forms of exercise. On nice days, get outside and get some fresh air. In the middle of winter, you can walk around inside a mall. If you have access to a fitness center, treadmills are great. When you walk, the muscles in your legs help push the blood through your veins which decreases pressure on your varicose veins. iii
5. DO pedal a bicycle – Take a bicycle ride, or use a stationary cycle at your gym. Cycling uses your leg muscles and this helps push the blood out of your legs. iii
6. DO go for a swim – Swimming offers many advantages for those with varicose veins. Kicking not only pushes you along in the water, but it also pushes the blood out of your legs. When you swim, your legs will be essentially above the level of your heart at times, because you are horizontal, and this also increases the flow of blood out of your leg veins. iii
7. DO use your calves – Your calves have a very important role in keeping the blood moving in your legs. Even if you can’t go for long walks, you may be able to work your calf muscles by doing standing calf raises. ii Using a chair for support, in a standing position, slowly raise yourself up on your toes and then lower yourself back down. Repeat this 10 – 15 times, then take a short break, and repeat another 10 – 15 times. iv
8. DO work your thighs – Your thigh muscles also help move the blood from your upper legs back to your body. You can work your thigh muscles simply by going from sitting in a chair to standing. Do 10 – 15 10. repetitions, take a break, and then do another 10 – 15 repetitions. ii
9. DO cool down and stretch – Before you end your workout, you should slow down for a few minutes and then gently stretch out your legs. ii
10. DON’T hold your breath – Any exercise that involves straining, such as squats or sit ups, increases pressure on the veins in your abdomen. Be sure to take slow even breaths because holding your breath puts pressure on your abdomen and can prevent your leg veins from draining.
11. DON’T lift heavy weights – Lifting heavy weights increases the amount of pressure on your veins. Talk to your doctor to see if you should be lifting weights and how much weight is safe for you. v
12. DON’T “just exercise” to take care of your veins– . Don’t forget that exercise is just one part of an overall program to take care of your veins. A healthy diet is also important.
13. DON’T push yourself after vein treatments – Don’t exercise after having any surgery or treatment for your varicose veins without talking to your doctor first.
Before beginning any type of exercise, check with your doctor. If you regularly exercise, you should talk to your doctor about the type of exercise you’re doing. Tell him or her about your varicose veins and any other health issues that may impact your ability to exercise. Your doctor will also be able to talk to you about other ways to keep your legs healthy.