After writing about it for a year and a half, I built up quite a bit of knowledge about vein disease and its causes, symptoms, and treatments. But when Dr. Bunker diagnosed me with chronic venous insufficiency (CVI) this spring, I experienced some interesting daily realities that all of the medical information in the world couldn’t have prepared me for.
Here are 5 things I never knew about vein disease until I was diagnosed:
It’s Possible (and Kind of Creepy) to Feel Your Veins
In the same way we feel our stomachs gurgling or hurting, or feel our lungs expanding with air, it is possible to feel the passage of blood through your veins. I never noticed this before, and my guess is because when your blood is flowing smoothly, it doesn’t feel like much at all.
But when your blood is refluxing or pooling, you can actually feel the backup in your veins. Sometimes it feels like a bent garden hose, a spotty, start-stop feeling kind of like a ticking or fluttering. Sometimes it feels like an outward pulsing or aching pressure, like when you have a sinus headache. And sometimes you can just feel a slight crawling sensation as your blood moves through your vein.
It takes a deep level of body awareness (paying close, almost meditative-like attention to the feeling of being in your body) to notice the subtle sensations, but once you do, you’ll know right away when you’re refluxing.
Wearing Compression Daily is Not Easy
One of the first recommendations for those experiencing vein issues, and one of the “conservative therapies” required by many insurance companies, is to wear medical-grade compression stockings every day.
Here’s what they don’t tell you: You will need many more than just one pair, and if you enjoy putting together nice outfits you must have at least one pair in black and at least a couple of pairs in the footless style. You can’t easily wear shorts, skirts, or dresses with thigh-highs, and you can’t wear flats, sandals, or flip-flops with footed styles.
All of that aside, wearing any kind of stockings in the hot Texas summer is an uncomfortable challenge. I recommend footless knee-highs for going out in shorts and flip-flops, and sleeves for short outings or going hiking/swimming (remove them before getting in the water). Click here for a full buying guide.
Last, compression stockings require special care, and you have to be on top of washing them at all times, or you might get stuck with that last clean pair that doesn’t go with what you wanted to wear. Run your stockings through the wash on the “gentle” or “hand washables” cycle, and never put them in the dryer.
Swimming is Your New Best Friend
It’s difficult to find pain-free, heartbeat-raising exercise that doesn’t require putting strain on your legs. This was one of the hardest transitions for me—running, jogging, cycling, dancing, aerobics, lower body weight lifting or bodyweight exercises, and most yoga poses are suddenly crossed off the list.
There are many choices that target the core and upper body, but when it comes to working out your legs, the only recommendation I could find is walking, which doesn’t give you quite the same level of workout.
That is, until a holistic herbalist recommended swimming. She described the blood as the “water of the body,” so thought being immersed in water might be a good way to help it flow. Not only is swimming a great way to cool down from all those sweaty stockings, it provides an intense workout for the legs and cardio system without reflux or pain.
How You Sit & Stand Matters
One day as I was cooking in my kitchen, my sister pointed out that I was locking my knees as I stood. I have hyperextended knees, so it’s actually more comfortable and natural for me to stand with them locked out—but it’s not good for blood flow in the lower legs.
Pay attention to your posture when you’re standing. If you notice that you lock your knees out too, try to correct yourself as often as possible by putting a slight bend in your knees. This will make it easier for blood to flow through the veins, and won’t cause blood to pool as quickly.
The same goes for sitting—I used to be a big fan of sitting with my legs crossed, or sitting with one leg folded underneath my body. It won’t be hard to remember that these positions aren’t good for you; all it takes is a minute or two before you’ll notice the aching and pooling from your circulation being impeded. Sitting cross-legged (in lotus pose), kneeling, and squatting are also very uncomfortable and will quickly cause pain and backup.
Instead, keep your legs straight and uncrossed, and if possible elevate them on a stool, stack of pillows, another chair, or an ottoman while you’re sitting down.
Certain Types of Shoes Are Out
Not too long after receiving my diagnosis, I went out wearing a pair of very popular tennis shoes. In the middle of dinner, I was suddenly overtaken with intense pain in my feet, and had to rapidly unlace and take them off under the table-inconvenient at best; quite embarrassing at worst.
It turns out, the iconic narrow capped toe of these particular shoes is restricting on the feet, and when they’re already struggling with extra blood, this can quickly cause a circulation problem. I can still wear them if I lace them very loosely, but even so, wearing them for too long starts to hurt.
The same goes for any shoe style that is typically worn tight or snug, especially lace-up shoes and boots. If you have the option, make sure your laces are as loose as possible while still being supportive, or buy the next half size up.
Either way, pay special attention when buying new shoes, and take plenty of time to walk around in them and see how your feet and legs respond. Personally, I have a hard time wearing anything with a heel because of the strain on the feet, but can get away with a small wedge. Find what works for you.
If any of these lifestyle changes sound familiar or if you’ve noticed pain in your legs and feet, call Bunker Vein & Imaging at (512) 726-0599 to schedule a free screening and find out more about treatment options.