Why can legs feel “heavy”?

Blood in the veins in your legs flows back up to the heart. Venous insufficiency is a condition whereby the veins in your legs have difficulty sending blood back up to the heart. This condition affects the valves in your veins whose primary function is to prevent blood from flowing backwards. Problems with these valves causes blood to pool in the legs.

What are the symptoms?

Woman legs with cramp.

Some types of venous insufficiency have no symptoms whatsoever. However, there are usually a wide variety of symptoms including:

  • a feeling of heaviness in the legs, especially at the end of the day, soothed by putting feet up or by walking
  • swelling in the legs, particularly around the ankles and calves
  • tingling or numbness
  • muscle cramps
  • itching, restlessness, etc.

These symptoms are most commonly felt in the calves and tend to increase as the day goes on and during hot weather.

What are the consequences?

When the condition develops, and particularly if it is not treated, you may observe:

  • the formation of visible and unattractive varicose veins, often painful to begin with,
  • followed by incapacitating complications, such as edema and serious skin complaints with changes to skin color, even resulting in the formation of skin ulcers.

Who is affected?

This condition is more common that you may realize! Chronic venous insufficiency affects more than 8 out of 10 people in the world. While women are more likely to suffer from this condition, men can also be affected. Symptoms increase with age as veins lose their elasticity and do not contract as easily as we get older.

Which factors contribute?

Your painful legs have many enemies! Several risk factors can be associated with the onset or worsening of venous disease symptoms.

  • Some are the same for both genders:
    • Age
    • Genetics
    • Excess weight
    • Dietary factors
    • Long-term sedentary behavior
    • Working posture (prolonged seated or standing positions)
    • Keeping legs crossed
    • Heavy lifting (>10 kg for women, >25 kg for men)
    • Tight clothing (belts, tight trousers, corsets, girdles, tight boots, etc)
    • Heat
    • Smoking
    • Some sports exerting strong pressure on vein valves (tennis, squash, weightlifting, etc)
  • Other factors are specifically female such as premenstrual symptoms, contraceptive pill, and number of pregnancies.
  • While others are due to professions requiring prolonged seated or standing positions, eg, chef, hairdresser, cashier, driver, surgeon, storekeeper, administrative staff, healthcare staff, air hostess, etc.

True/false conceptions

True False
Pain always occurs at a late stage of venous disease
Only women suffer from heavy legs
Leg pain most often appears at the end of the day
Heavy legs are caused by blocked arteries
Venous disease is a chronic and progressive disease
Varicose veins (visible, twisted, and deformed veins) are a possible complication of heavy legs
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