Can Varicose Veins Cause Your Legs to Ache?

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You asked, and we delivered! Today we are going to discuss reasons why your legs ache and how this symptom can relate to varicose vein disease.

You may experience achy legs for a variety of reasons such as trauma, nerve injury, diseased arteries that bring in fresh blood, blood clots, dehydration, or even from overuse and strain (recent “leg day” at the gym? Ouch!). But also, you guessed it – the achiness in your legs can also be caused by varicose vein disease, which is what we specialize in at Vein Clinics of America. Let’s get to the nitty gritty of why that is.

Achy legs and varicose vein disease

Why does varicose vein disease make your legs achy? To understand the connection between achy legs and varicose vein disease, let’s first look at normal blood flow. The circulatory system is designed to function flawlessly, like a well-oiled machine. Arteries carry oxygen rich blood from the heart and lungs throughout the body. The veins then return the blood which now has carbon dioxide and waste products back towards the heart and lungs. Makes sense, right? Well-oiled machine. But what happens when the machine breaks down? Read on to learn more.

What happens when the venous system doesn’t function properly

Let’s focus on the venous system – why does this part of the machine break down? Venous flow works against gravity to return the blood from the legs to the heart. This is done through a series of one-way valves whose job it is to keep the blood flowing upward. However, for a variety of reasons such as advanced age, multiple pregnancies, injury, and genetics, the valves sometimes fail. When they do, blood starts to flow backward, towards the feet, and begins to pool in the veins.

The blood pooling causes increased pressure on the delicate vein walls, causing them to stretch and bulge. Think of a balloon that is empty, the walls are thick and the balloon is very stretchy; as you begin to fill the balloon with air, the walls become thinner and less stretchy. Bringing this analogy back to the veins, the pooling of blood in the veins causes them to stretch and become crooked which causes, you guessed it, varicose veins.

Learn more about blood pooling causes, symptoms and prevention.

So why do varicose veins cause your legs to ache?

Imagine it’s garbage day and you had a party over the weekend so you put out your bins and then head to work. However, you get home and see a note that your bins were improperly placed and therefore your garbage was not able to be picked up. You have to wait until next week for pick up, but the following week there is an unprecedented snow storm and the trucks cannot get through. You must wait yet another week to have your trash picked up – eek! The garbage continues to pile up, creating an even bigger problem. This is what happens to your venous system when the valves are broken. Remember those waste products that veins are tasked with removing from your body? As the blood pools, it lacks oxygen and gets stale. Just like your pile of trash bringing a less than desirable scent throughout the neighborhood, waste products in the veins begin to seep through the walls, into the tissue and skin. This causes irritation and inflammation which feels like itching, burning, and, you guessed it – leg aching!

Are your achy legs due to varicose veins?

Now you may look down and think, I don’t see any veins, so my leg aching must be from something else, right? On the contrary! Many patients who suffer from varicose vein disease, scientifically known as chronic venous insufficiency, do not have visible varicose veins. These pesky veins become visible as vein disease progresses, but the symptoms are often felt much sooner. It’s like the iceberg that sunk the Titanic, what you see on the surface may look a lot minor when there is still a big problem underneath.

Ease the ache with a vein specialist

Not sure if the aching you are experiencing is from varicose veins or something else? A vein specialist can help confirm or rule out vein disease as a cause – it’s as simple as scheduling a consultation. During the consultation, your phlebologist (provider who specializes in vein disease) will look at your legs, review your symptoms, discuss your family history, and prior medical history. If they suspect you have varicose veins, they will schedule you for an ultrasound to determine if and where the varicose veins are in your leg and recommend a vein treatment tailored to your needs. Even if things look good on the skin when only your eyes see it, like that iceberg, there still may be lots of trouble underneath where only the ultrasound will reveal it.

Now that you know the aching in your legs may be caused by varicose vein disease, what are you waiting for? Schedule a consultation with one of our vein specialists in your city.

Concerned about your vein health?

Medically Reviewed by

Dr. Brian Baxt
Dr. Brian Baxt is board-certified in emergency medicine and is specialized in treating vein disease at Vein Clinics of America. He combines his extensive knowledge in the diagnosis and treatment of varicose vein disease and related disorders to provide patients with best-in-class treatment. Dr. Baxt graduated with honors from Tufts University School of Medicine, and completed his chief residency in Emergency Medicine at Yale University. At his alma mater, he was recognized as a featured lecturer with a focus on ultrasound guided venous procedures.

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