Why are Varicose Veins Found Primarily in the Legs?

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Varicose veins are a problem that affects an estimated 20% of all adults in the United States. That’s a big part of the population suffering from a disease that many people think is just “purple bumpy veins.”

However, those purple veins can turn into big problems if left untreated, and you don’t want to find yourself dealing with that.

When you see varicose veins pop up, be sure to head to a vein specialist as soon as possible to make sure you can tackle the problem as early as possible.

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And, if you’re keeping your eye out for varicose veins in the hopes of practicing some preventative care, the top place to look is your legs. Though varicose veins don’t exclusively occur in the legs–that’s the top spot you’ll find them.

Why is that?

Here’s why varicose veins are found primarily in legs

In one short word, we can describe why varicose veins occur primarily in your legs: gravity. Yep. It’s all about science. Before we get into why varicose veins develop in legs, let’s chat about how veins work in your body.

Doctor consulting with patient on varicose veins

According to Mayo Clinic, “Arteries carry blood from your heart to the rest of your tissues, and veins return blood from the rest of your body to your heart, so the blood can be recirculated.” And in order to bring that blood back to your heart, “The veins in your legs must work against gravity.”

“Muscle contractions in your lower legs act as pumps, and elastic vein walls help blood return to your heart. Tiny valves in your veins open as blood flows toward your heart then close to stop blood from flowing backward.” So, if those valves are weak or damaged, then this can lead to some trouble.

Why is that?

If the valves in your veins aren’t functioning how they should, this causes blood to flow backward and pool. When blood pools, your veins have to deal with additional pressure, oftentimes leading to the bulging and twisting of veins which, as you probably guessed, result in the varicose veins that you see.

Now, let’s get back to why varicose veins occur mostly in the legs.

Veins in your legs are farther away from your heart

For one, the veins in your arms and the rest of your body are closer to your heart than your legs are. So that’s one strike against veins in your legs: They are just farther away.

Woman using digital tablet on rock

Gravity is working against the veins in your legs

Secondly, gravity is against veins in your legs. Your veins work against gravity to return blood to your heart. Since the veins in your legs are farthest from the heart, blood has a long way to travel against gravity. We spend most of our time either standing or sitting which means our veins are constantly fighting against the natural flow of gravity in order to get blood back up to your heart.

Your legs are most affected by a sedentary lifestyle

Thirdly, your legs are part of your body most affected by being sedentary. We’ve talked previously about how a sedentary lifestyle is one of the primary causes of varicose veins and now you can understand why. When you sit or stand for long periods of time, your muscles are not contracting as they usually do, which is what helps your blood pump back up toward the heart.

Think about it–when you sit, chances are good you are still moving your arms and fingers, but your legs generally stay pretty still. All of these reasons are why varicose veins often develop in your legs.

Are you suffering from varicose veins in your legs?

Medically Reviewed by

Dr. Satish Vayuvegula
Dr. Satish Vayuvegula is the National Medical Director at Vein Clinics of America. Certified by the American Board of Venous & Lymphatic Medicine, Dr. Satish Vayuvegula is recognized as a physician who has met rigorous standards of knowledge and extensive training in phlebology, the diagnosis and treatment of varicose vein disease and related disorders. Dr. Satish also shares his passion and expertise by serving as a board member of the American Vein and Lymphatic Society, the predominant national organization for venous and lymphatic disease.

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