Leg Veins and Leg Cramps
Leg veins and leg cramps are common problems, especially among women. However, many men also experience having large veins in their legs, as well as muscle cramps in the legs. Although these conditions are usually harmless, they can cause considerable discomfort and pain.
Veins in the legs can become tortuous, looking dark, twisted, and bulging. These are what we call varicose veins, which can occur anywhere in the body, but more commonly in the legs. These large, superficial veins can become inflamed, causing symptoms like heaviness in the legs, aching or burning pain in the legs, muscle cramps, and itching of the skin around the veins. Standing or sitting for long periods may make the pain worse. Long-term effects may include swelling of the ankles and feet, ulceration of the skin near the ankles, and formation of blood clots in the deep leg veins.
What Causes Varicose Veins?
Veins normally have one-way valves that allow blood to move towards the heart and prevent its backflow. However, certain conditions can cause these valves to malfunction, resulting in failure of blood to circulate properly, and leading to pooling of some blood in the dependent parts of the body, which are the legs. This congestion causes the formation of varicose veins. Conditions that can lead to weakening of the valves include obesity, pregnancy, chronic constipation, standing for hours at work, and being sedentary. These conditions increase the pressure on the veins and can impede proper blood flow. Aging also plays an important role in reducing the strength of the valves. Women and people who have a family history of having varicose veins are also more likely to develop the condition.
Treatment for Leg Veins
Fortunately, most people do not develop serious complications from varicose veins, and home treatment may be all that is necessary to relieve their symptoms. These include:
- Reducing excess weight or maintaining a healthy body weight.
- Avoiding long periods of standing or sitting.
- Treating constipation to avoid straining on the toilet.
- Elevating the legs after long periods of standing.
- Exercising regularly.
- Using compression stockings to prevent blood pooling and promote blood circulation. Properly fitting compression stockings, which can be bought from medical supply stores and pharmacies, must be worn all day. They work by steadily squeezing your legs to help the leg muscles and blood vessels move blood efficiently.
People who have severe cases of varicose veins may need medical or surgical treatments such as sclerotherapy, laser surgery, vein stripping, and other procedures.
Muscle cramps consist of prolonged, involuntary muscle contractions that usually result in pain. These strong contractions or spasms may occur in the large muscles of the legs, causing hardness of the calf muscles. They may last for a few seconds to several minutes, and may result in your inability to walk or move the leg. The muscles may relax and then contract again. Although any voluntary muscle in the body may experience cramps, the leg muscles and those in the feet are more commonly affected.
What Causes Leg Cramps?
Almost anybody, including children, may experience leg cramps. However, older adults are more likely to develop muscle cramps. Other factors that lead to leg cramps include vigorous activity or overuse of the muscles, dehydration, leg injury, and muscle strain. Varicose veins in the legs may also make you more prone to leg cramps due to poor circulation. Some medical conditions may increase your risk of developing muscle cramps, and these include arteriosclerosis (damaged arteries causing poor circulation), mineral (calcium/potassium/magnesium) deficiency, B vitamin deficiency, nerve compression in the lumbar spine, liver or kidney disease, and medications like diuretics (water pills). Pregnant women and people who have diabetes or thyroid disorders may also experience frequent leg cramps.
Treatment for Leg Cramps
Leg cramps are usually harmless and short-lasting, although they may be painful, especially at night. Most muscle cramps are relieved by stretching the involved muscle. For leg cramps, you can try pulling your toes upward, towards your head, while maintaining the leg straight. Or you can stand away from a wall, then lean on it by placing the forearms against the wall, with your knees and back straight, while keeping your heels flat on the floor. A gentle massage on the muscle will also help it to relax, as well as applying a warm heating pad or taking a warm bath. It is also important to rest after vigorous physical activity, and to replace fluid and electrolyte (sodium, potassium) loss. Medications are often not necessary to treat ordinary leg cramps since most cramps disappear spontaneously.
Some people believe that taking health supplements such as B vitamins, magnesium, calcium, zinc, and potassium may help prevent leg cramps. However, there is insufficient evidence from studies proving that taking additional supplements can prevent or treat leg cramps. Furthermore, experts advise that maintaining a healthy diet is the best way to obtain a variety of nutrients. Other effective ways to prevent leg cramps include maintaining adequate hydration by drinking plenty of fluids on hot days and before exercising, avoiding strenuous activities and periods of long standing, and wearing properly fitted shoes.
This information should not take the place of medical advice. We encourage you to talk to your health care providers (doctor, registered dietitian, pharmacist, etc.) about your interest in, questions about, or use of dietary supplements and what may be best for your overall health.
WebMD. Understanding varicose veins – basics.
Mayo Clinic. Varicose Veins. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/varicose-veins/basics/definition/con-20043474
Mayo Clinic. Muscle Cramps.
MedicineNet. Muscle Cramps. http://www.medicinenet.com/muscle_cramps/article.htm