Varicose veins on feet - the causes and solutions

Do you have varicose veins in your ankles or feet?

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S.A.C. Dip (Diet, Exercise & Fitness), Advanced Human Anatomy & Physiology Level 3
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09 May 2024

What are varicose veins?

It is estimated that 3 out of every 10 adults will suffer from varicose veins at some point in their lives. The symptoms of a varicose vein can vary in severity, meaning that the condition can go from being considered a 'cosmetic issue' to being thought of as a serious medical complaint.

A varicose vein occurs when the small valves in your veins become damaged or weakened over time. This prevents blood from being pumped properly around the circulatory system and results in blood becoming backlogged in your veins. This causes them to bloat and for skin discolouration to crop up (the veins themself can often look blue or dark purple, but beyond this, the skin itself around the affected vein can risk becoming broken or inflamed giving rise to varicose eczema or even a varicose ulcer), and ultimately giving these bulging veins their swollen and distorted appearance.

The lower body, and mostly the legs, are the area most commonly affected by varicose veins due to a combination of gravity and their role in supporting the weight of your body.

Sometimes, though, you may develop varicose veins as far as your calves, ankles and even feet.

As varicose veins in the feet are quite a common occurrence, this blog will answer the following questions:

  • What causes varicose veins in your feet?
  • How can I get rid of varicose veins on my feet?

What causes varicose veins in your feet?

When varicose veins appear in the feet, they can be very debilitating. Standing or walking tend to be particularly painful and uncomfortable because they inevitably place pressure on the affected area. However, leading a sedentary life is not recommended – in fact, it may actually contribute to the problem.

There are a number of other factors besides inactivity that can increase your chances of developing varicose veins in your feet and put you at risk of worsening your symptoms; so, let's look at what these are.

1. Obesity

There are a variety of serious health risks associated with being obese and overweight, including heart disease and diabetes. However, carrying excess pounds also increases your chances of developing varicose veins, particularly in your calves and feet.

This is logical when you think about it – the valves of a vein in these areas already have to fight against gravity to ensure a consistent circulation of blood, and the pressure of your body's weight is inescapably placed on this area. If you are obese, your weakened valves will struggle to cope with the increased demand on your circulatory system and will eventually become even weaker trying to support your increased body mass.

This process can be accelerated by high blood pressure, an extremely common condition in obesity, and one that can damage the lining of your arteries, placing yet more pressure on your circulatory system, including your veins, and even more delicate smaller veins. If pressure then continues down to the end of venous system - spider veins could crop up as capillaries become vulnerable to bursting. Inflammatory processes can also make these processes worse.

2. Poor nutrition

Poor nutrition and obesity are inevitably interlinked when, with each complaint exacerbating the other.

If you are more reliant on food options which are heavy in processed fats, refined sugars or caffeinated beverages, this can affect all other areas of your body, from your immune system to your digestion. Poor digestion reduces your ability to absorb minerals and vitamins that your body needs to function, and work at its best, including your circulatory system.

You should try to increase your intake of vitamin C, which is important for connective tissue such as that found in blood vessels. Also important is vitamin E, which helps keep the artery walls supple. Fruit, vegetables, wholegrains and oily fish are good sources of these nutrients.

3. Pregnancy

Pregnancy can lead to the appearance of varicose veins. In fact, it is estimated that approximately 40% of pregnant women will experience varicose veins.

In pregnancy, the valves in your veins are placed under an increased amount of strain due to the extra amounts of blood being produced in the body to support the growing foetus.

The expanding uterus itself can also place pressure on the inferior vena cava vein, which supports the blood flow from the legs and pelvis. This can cause it to become weakened and impaired. Additionally, your increased weight may place more stress on your feet, increasing the chance of varicose veins even more.

On top of this, there are also hormonal issues to consider. Your body will be manufacturing more 'female hormones' namely, oestrogen and progesterone at this time, which can relax the lining of the veins and make them more prone to leaking.

4. Stress

Stress might not seem like an obvious trigger of varicose veins, especially in the feet, but it can be another contributing factor.

When you experience an episode of stress, it will plunge your nervous system into a state of excitement and stimulate your primordial 'fight or flight' reflexes, which are designed to prioritise your survival over everything else. Your blood will be pumped more forcefully through your body, placing more strain on your blood vessels.

During bouts of stress, adrenalin and histamine are released into the body. These add to inflammatory pressures on blood vessels. Histamine can also make the skin's surface more sensitive, so you may have flare ups in close proximity to the varicose vein, such as in the case of varicose eczema.

If you experience stress over long periods, rather than just short-term episodes, then this can make issues such as varicose veins progressively worse.

5. Immobility

Suffering from varicose veins, particularly when they occur in your feet, can be a thoroughly unpleasant experience and is not likely to inspire you to be particularly active. However, sitting down and remaining sedentary will only impair your circulation even more. It encourages the blood in your veins to remain stagnant, worsening your existing symptoms and placing you at a greater risk of getting varicose veins in your feet.

See my tip below for more information on being more active and employing some gentle, but regular exercise, in a bid to keep your blood moving sufficiently (with the beneficial pumping motion of nearby muscles) when suffering from varicose veins!

My Self-Care Tip: Exercising with varicose veins

Find out a little more about how exercise can help varicose veins in my video.

How can I treat varicose veins on my feet?

Some of my top tips and treatment options for dealing with varicose veins in the feet are as follows!

1. Relax

Stress and visible medical conditions can form a vicious cycle. Relaxation is, therefore, very important, otherwise you risk feeding the cycle, worsening your symptoms and ultimately making yourself miserable.

When you feel yourself starting to feel stressed or panicked, try to take some time out of your day-to-day life for yourself. Enjoy the pursuits that you want to enjoy, whether it be watching a cheesy film or going for a leisurely stroll down the street. You could even try out a gentle exercise regime like yoga or meditation, as both activities are excellent at teaching you useful breathing techniques that will enable you to keep calm in times of emotional distress.

If your stress symptoms are becoming particularly overwhelming, you could try a natural stress remedy such as AvenaCalm. This can work to support your nervous system and gently soothe your moods, making you feel more relaxed and in control of yourself. However, as always, if your symptoms become persistent or severe, you may require treatment beyond a natural remedy, in which case, a chat with a healthcare professional would be recommended.

2. Try Horse Chestnut for a varicose vein

Our herbal remedies for varicose veins, Venaforce and Venagel, are made from fresh extracts of Horse Chestnut seeds. Horse Chestnut seeds have a long history of being used in the treatment of circulatory conditions like varicose veins, and they work by promoting the flow of blood, reducing any pain or inflammation, and strengthening the lining of your blood vessels.

Horse chestnut tablets (Venaforce) can be used internally, whilst Horse Chestnut Gel (Venagel), can be used topically to rub on the affected vein to help reduce pain or discomfort associated with affected vein. Always use any horse chestnut products for a few weeks minimum, before reassessing your symptoms.

If you are pregnant, you can use Venagel, but not Venaforce, as is not suitable in pregnancy.

Both horse chestnut treatments, as described, are not advisable if you suffer from serious complications like varicose ulcers in this case, a vascular specialist or a similar healthcare professional should be consulted if any venous ulcers are apparent, as they can carry out a physical examination on the affected area.

My Top Tip:

Venaforce tablets are made from freshly harvested Horse Chestnut seeds, which are used to relieve the swelling and discomfort caused by varicose veins. Take one tablet, twice daily.

"Excellent product, I can see a huge difference."

Read more customer reviews

3. Good nutrition

There is really no understating how important it is to have a healthy and well-balanced diet. It can help to reduce your chances of becoming obese, it supports your liver function and aids your immune and circulatory systems - all of which are relevant when it comes to varicose veins.

On the other hand, following a diet that is rich in refined sugars, caffeine or processed fats can do a lot of damage to your body, risking flooding it with inflammatory chemicals and even making you more prone to bouts of stress and digestive complaints. Instead, you should try to limit these types of food, and try to get a better variety of plant-based into the diet which well help to minimise inflammation in the body, and support a good diversity of gut bacteria.

Try to choose fibrous foods that contain a lot of B vitamins, as these can improve the health of your digestive system and prevent you from experiencing constipation, which can place pressure on your liver and blood vessels.

Aim to eat more fruit and vegetables like pineapples, oranges, ginger, onions or kale as these are abundant in antioxidant vitamins like vitamin C, E and K, which can aid your circulatory system, strengthen the lining of your blood vessels and help protect against varicose veins and spider veins.

If you feel you're not getting enough vitamin C into your diet, then you could try our supplement Nature-C which is organic and made from natural fruit extracts. If you want to support your liver function, try Milk Thistle Complex.

4. Elevate your legs

A good way of supporting drainage of blood from the legs is to elevate your legs above the level of your heart. You can do this by lying down or even just lean backward, and then resting your feet against a wall, or placing your legs on a stack of cushions. Putting your feet up on a pillow when lying in bed can also help.

Gravity should enable the movement of stagnant blood and encourage your veins to start moving the blood to other areas of the body, hopefully reducing your symptoms and preventing varicose veins from spreading to your ankles and feet.

5. Exercise

When you suffer from varicose veins, exercising can feel like a bush tucker trial, especially if the veins have started to appear on your feet. Walking can be uncomfortable, painful and irritating; however, it is necessary if you want to improve circulation and encourage the proper blood flow in your veins. See, the gentle pumping of your calf muscles help to facilitate and support the vein walls in their bid to push blood flow back upwards against gravity. This could also help to protect against more advanced states such as chronic venous insufficiency when blood really stops circulating as we would like. The benefit of walking could also be intensified if you opted to wear compression stockings.

The key is to exercise sensibly – don't go on 10-mile bike rides or feel the need to start an intense weight session at your nearest gym. Instead, try taking brisk walks or even start yoga classes, as both forms of exercise are gentle and should encourage you to stretch your muscles and get your heart pumping.

Exercise can also be of benefit if you are obese, as it should help you to shed the extra weight you are carrying, relieving the pressure on the veins in your legs and feet.

Take a look at my blog '6 low impact exercises to boost circulation' for more information.

6. Use essential oils

If varicose vein symptoms have manifested in your feet, you could try massaging them very gently with soothing oils like yarrow, cypress, or rose, in a base oil such as sweet almond. These substances can be very comforting for your more general, emotional well-being, and can work to support your blood circulation, as well as tightening your blood vessels and reducing inflammation more locally in your affected leg or foot.

You can massage these oils directly into your skin or even add them to a basin filled with warm water for a gentle foot bath. Your local health food shop should stock a variety of oils.

Please note, in the case of severe varicose veins you should always visit your doctor primarily, before self-medicating. They may need to check the severity of the damaged vein.

7. Use compression stockings

Wearing compression stockings is another very useful varicose vein treatment option, especially if they have spread to your feet and ankles. They gently add pressure on the veins in your legs, supporting the flow of blood and reducing any swelling.

You should wear the stockings throughout the day, whilst you are being active or when you come home from work and want to sit down. Compression stockings are also useful to have on you if you plan on venturing abroad, as they can relieve some of the negative side-effects of flying with varicose veins.

Please note, you should always keen an eye on how the general state of your veins and the number of affected veins or new varicose veins that are cropping up. Larger varicose veins would also be one to watch as there is the risk that deeper (less visible) veins could be affected which could put you at risk of deep vein thrombosis or the formation of a similar blood clot, which could put you at risk of another serious life threatening condition, such as pulmonary embolism.

Your doctor can always discuss options with you depending on the severity of your symptoms - from minimally invasive treatments, to being referred to a vascular surgeon.


Originally published 12 August 2016 (updated 09 May 2024)

Venaforce® – Horse Chestnut tablets for varicose veins

30 tabs

£ 13.99

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Treatment for varicose veins. Also available in 60 tablets size.
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As the A. Vogel Circulation expert, I recommend Venaforce® horse chestnut tablets and Venagel, to help ease the symptoms of varicose veins.

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