Pain. Itching. Aching. Swelling. Bleeding. Rashes. Ulcers. Varicose veins make themselves known in many ways — none of them good. In some cases, you don’t really have a choice: The veins are going to have to go. But in most cases, you can get at least some relief through home remedies.
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Vascular surgeon Kathleen Boyle, DO, tells us what works, what doesn’t and when it’s time to stop managing your condition and start treating it.
The only way to get rid of varicose veins is to have them eliminated. Vascular specialists like Dr. Boyle use techniques like injection therapy (sclerotherapy), laser therapy (endovenous thermal ablation) and surgery (ligation and stripping) to either close the vein off or physically remove it.
Here’s some good news: In many cases, these invasive treatments aren’t necessary.
While you can’t get rid of varicose veins without undergoing a procedure, there are many home remedies that can help you manage your symptoms. We talked with Dr. Boyle about the five most common ways to improve your circulation and reduce discomfort.
Wearing compression stockings is probably the most effective home remedy for varicose veins.
“Compression stockings don’t let the veins dilate, which improves symptoms like aching, throbbing and itching — especially if you wear them throughout the day,” Dr. Boyle explains.
For a long time, compression socks were decidedly unsexy. But most medical grade compression stocking manufacturers now offer stockings in interesting colors and cute patterns. You can also get sheer compression stockings in flesh tones that resemble pantyhose.
The compression garment you need will depend on how far up your legs your varicose veins extend. You can get knee-high, thigh high or even legging-style garments that cover your stomach. If you go for compression leggings, Dr. Boyle suggests monitoring your feet for swelling.
Compression socks can make a world of difference, but Dr. Boyle notes that you won’t feel the benefits of compression unless you get stockings that are medical grade. When in doubt, ask your provider for recommendations.
If you’re trying to improve vein health, diet is a great place to start. Specifically, you want to be getting plenty of fiber, potassium and flavonoids. There are also some herbs that may help alleviate symptoms.
As with all eating plans, it’s important to try and get the nutrients you need from food, not supplements.
Flavonoids are plant compounds that give many foods their color. Research suggests they have a wide range of benefits, but it’s the research suggesting they can help lower blood pressure that’s most promising for people with varicose veins.
There are five different subtypes of flavonoids.
The most promising flavonoid for the management of varicose vein symptoms is rutin (also called rutoside). It’s a flavanol found in a wide variety of foods, including capers, hot peppers, buckwheat, green tea and amaranth leaves.
If there’s one thing you’re likely to know about fiber, it’s that it helps you poop. And that’s the reason people with varicose veins are encouraged to eat a high-fiber diet. It’s important to avoid straining your lower body when you have varicose veins. That means powerlifting might not be the sport for you. It also means bran may be your new best friend.
You can get fiber from a wide range of foods, including legumes, whole grains, fruits and vegetables.
A potassium-rich diet may help reduce blood pressure, which can help alleviate some of the painful symptoms of varicose veins.
When you hear the word “potassium,” chances are the food that comes to mind is the humble banana. But it shouldn’t be the only place you turn. Fruits like grapefruit and cantaloupe — and vegetables like carrots and spinach — get the job done and aren’t as calorie dense.
Just make sure you don’t overdo it. Getting too much potassium can cause muscle weakness and heart problems.
While more research is needed, there are a number of herbs that have shown promise in the management of varicose vein symptoms. They are:
While exercise can’t eliminate varicose veins, getting your blood pumping does ease symptoms and — temporarily — improve the veins’ appearance.
And don’t worry: You don’t have to run marathons to see those benefits. Dr. Boyle says that taking a walk at night is the first things she recommends to her patients.
“Your legs are down throughout the day and you probably aren’t’ moving around as much,” Dr. Boyle notes. “If you go for a walk in the evening, it helps get everything circulating well. And you’ll feel better at night when you’re resting.”
If standing and walking aren’t in the cards for you, try exercises that you can do sitting or lying down, like ankle or calf raises.
Not everybody can elevate their legs. But if you can, Dr. Boyle recommends doing it.
“It’s kind of impractical, but if you can elevate your legs, you’ll notice that your symptoms will improve,” Dr. Boyle says.
If a legs up the wall pose isn’t in the cards for you, consider purchasing a leg elevation pillow. An adjustable bed is a (more expensive) option, too.
The goal is to get your legs up above your heart, so that gravity can help your veins push your blood in the right direction. But if that’s not possible, even elevating your legs slightly — like you do when using an ottoman, recliner or elevated leg rests on a wheelchair — can help reduce the pressure on your veins.
If you’ve been looking for an excuse to get pampered, congratulations! Massages aren’t going to cure your varicose veins, but they may temporarily reduce swelling and discomfort. There’s one important caveat here, according to Dr. Boyle: People who’ve experienced an episode of phlebitis should speak to their provider before getting a massage or massaging their veins themselves.
It’s important to note that some spas and massage parlors don’t massage varicose veins as a matter of policy. Usually that’s because they’re concerned about the possibility of dislodging a clot, causing tears and bleeding, or otherwise damaging your veins. It’s your responsibility to tell your massage therapist about any underlying conditions you have, especially if they involve your heart or kidneys, or if you have an active infection of some kind. It’s equally important to notify them if you have a history of clots.
While your spa day might not include a leg massage, that doesn’t’ mean it’s a bad idea. If the massage therapist at your local spa or massage parlor isn’t able or willing to massage your legs, talk to your healthcare provider about being referred to a medical massage therapist. These practitioners work closely with your medical team and tailor their therapy to fit your specific health concerns.
If you have other conditions in addition to your varicose veins — like lymphedema — your massage therapist may use compression pumps and other equipment as part of a lymphatic drainage massage that often happens in medical settings. And it’s common for the massage therapist to teach you how to do these massages yourself at home.
So, while you might not be able to go just anywhere for a leg massage, you don’t have to be afraid of massages either. “We even tell patients who have had thrombophlebitis to — after a certain period — massage those veins,” Dr. Boyle says. “You need to soften up and break up the area that’s all hard.”
If you spend enough time on the internet, you’re pretty much guaranteed to find some weird health advice. Luckily, in the case of varicose veins, said weird advice is just weird. Not dangerous.
Dr. Boyle doesn’t generally worry about patients trying random home remedies they find online. “As long as the thing you’re doing isn’t making you worse, you can always try an unconventional home remedy. But if it makes your veins or a wound — like a venous leg ulcer — look worse, then stop using it.”
While there’s little harm in trying some of the wackier remedies (tomato poultices, anyone?), Dr. Boyle does advise staying away from any devices you see being advertised online.
“Don’t spend lots of money on something that says it will eliminate your spider veins or eliminate your varicose veins because I don’t think it will,” she urges. You can eliminate pesky varicose and spider veins, but the way to do it is to see a vein specialist.
Some people’s varicose veins never give them any trouble. Other folks get all the relief they need from home remedies. But for some people, those remedies just won’t be enough.
How do you know if it’s time to see your provider about treatment?
Dr. Boyle strongly recommends treatment if you experienced (or are currently experiencing) any of the following:
Let’s be real, though: If you’ve read this far, it’s probably worth having a conversation about treatment with a healthcare provider. A conversation isn’t a commitment — and understanding your condition can may help you recognize your symptoms.
“I think most people don’t even realize that their leg bothers them until we eliminate the veins,” Dr. Boyle notes. “But afterwards, they feel like their leg is lighter and they have more energy.”