October 6, 2015

Can leg veins hurt?

Why do my leg veins hurt? The veins in my leg hurt. My legs hurt all the time, could this be my leg veins? These are all ways that many patients will ask the question, “are varicose veins the reason that my leg is hurting?”

The truth is that varicose veins do cause pain, tenderness, and discomfort. The goal of this article is to describe why this happens and help you decide if a vein is the source of that pain, but let me start by saying that leg pain from varicose veins comes in a wide spectrum ranging from a sensation of tiredness and fatigue to outright severe pain like a burning nerve.  No two people will experience exactly the same degree of hurting in their legs.

Varicose veins are veins that are no longer working properly. They are not able to move blood upward out of the leg anymore and instead are allowing the blood to sit stagnate in the vein or even run backward toward the foot (venous insufficiency/retrograde flow). The reasons that the vein is not able to do its job are also some of the reasons that the leg may hurt. You see, a varicose vein is one that is “broken”. The one-way valves in the vein are not pushing blood uphill anymore and so the blood sits in the vein and causes it to stretch or dilate under the constant downward pressure. This results in the vein distending like a filled water balloon. The stretching of the vein is part of the discomfort that we feel in our legs when we have varicose veins. Next, the body reacts to the stretched vein like it is “bad” tissue, or abnormal tissue. Our bodies natural reaction to any injury or abnormality is inflammation. inflammation around the vein and the soft tissues of the leg causes the leg to hurt and be “sore”. Another reason our legs hurt with varicose veins is that when blood is not moving up and out of the leg at a normal rate, swelling occurs. You may have even noticed yourself that your lower legs and feet swell if you have varicose veins. This swelling is fluid that is pooling in the soft tissues of the leg and this in turn causes pressure on the confined space of the leg which then causes pain in the leg. This is why it often times feels really good to sit down and elevate the legs when someone has varicose veins. Gravity is then working for you and the aching legs get some temporary relief.

Other causes of leg pain are more serious. If swelling has been present long enough and severe enough, and there has been some skin damage as a result of poor blood flow in the veins, then dermatitis or even skin ulcers can occur. These can be severely painful. The leg pain will often continue until the varicose vein issue is dealt with and the ulcer healed. Another reason for hurting legs with varicose veins is joint tenderness. When swelling is big enough to make an ankle “thick” or under pressure, then the there is pressure applied to the joint space and the range of motion of the ankle joint is limited and it feels “tight”. Again, temporary relief can be obtained by elevation the leg or using compression hose, but to truly gain control of the problem one needs to treat and eliminate the varicose veins first.

Not all legs that hurt are the result of varicose veins. There is a whole list of reasons that legs can hurt and be painful. But if you have noticed stretched out veins, lumpy veins, or twisted veins in your leg and your leg swells and hurts, there is a very good chance that the varicose veins are to blame. If this is you, then we recommend a visit to your regular physician or to a varicose vein specialist.