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Does crossing your legs cause varicose veins?

Thursday, September 28, 2006
Look around any café or park and you’ll see people crossing their legs. Most women do it without even thinking about it but does crossing your legs cause varicose veins?

Good blood circulation depends on our leg muscles squeezing oxygen-deficient blood through our veins. Those veins then funnel the blood back up to our hearts for a re-charge.

By crossing our legs, are we interrupting that circulation? Does squashing the muscles and crimping the blood flow invite varicose veins?

Varicose veins

In a healthy vein, tiny valves propel blood one way — toward the heart. But in a varicose vein, valves and vein walls weaken. Blood flow becomes congested and the weakened vein walls become knobbly and discoloured.

Worse still, the poor circulation sets off a host of other problems — inflammation, eczema and ultimately, leg ulcers. If you have varicose veins they can be painful and debilitating.

Leila travelled to New York to visit the Vein Treatment Center and meet one of the foremost experts in the world on veins and how to treat them, Dr Luis Navarro.

Dr Navarro is a surgeon turned vein specialist. He says the single biggest contributing factor in varicose veins is genetics.

"You get varicose veins because usually you are born with a congenital predisposition to varicose veins," he says.

Rachel has put up with unsightly veins for years and has come to see Dr Navarro.

"When I turned 50 I decided that I had enough of hiding my legs," she says. "And also, in summer, when I put on a bathing suit and went to swim, some little children came up to me and asked me why I had purple legs."

Just how badly damaged are Rachel's veins? Dr Navarro examines her legs and sees a lot of spider veins and feeder veins or articular veins. With a Doppler device, Dr Navarro looks for problems in deeper veins.

In sixty percent of cases, these visible surface spider veins are associated with more serious varicose veins. Rachel's in luck, though, and there's no deeper problem. Dr Navarro can get rid of her spider veins with a new technique called "schlerotherapy".

Injections cause the diseased veins to collapse, then shrink and die. Previously, it took surgery to strip them out.

Rachel was a whole lot luckier than Melbournian, Mark Quinn.

"It's like getting 240 volts every so often — just a bolt of it going through my leg," says Mark of his varicose veins. "It's quite excruciating. Five years ago the original area was small."

But inflammation set in, followed by varicose eczema and then has leg ulcers. Constant, excruciating agony.

"It just got more and more painful. Year after year. The last couple of years have just been unbearable," says Mark.

As bad as Mark's leg is, new therapies are offering hope.

"Once varicose veins start, they won't regress. You can be sure that they will get progressively bigger and bigger and eventually have the risk of causing complications," says vascular surgeon, Professor Ken Myers.

Professor Myers has specialised in vein disease for 25 years. He'll be using a new treatment on Mark — endovenus laser therapy.

"The first part of the procedure is to mark out the great saphenous vein, which is the one we're treating today," explains Professor Myers.

Mark's diseased vein is located using an ultrasound. Once it's marked out, anaesthetic paste is administered to deaden the pain.

Through a tiny nick in the skin, Professor Myers will insert a tiny laser into the damaged vein.

"We've encountered a little difficulty getting around a tortuous part of the vein, so I'm just changing over to another wire which is more slippery than the one we're using," says Professor Myers.

Once in position, the laser is switched on for sixty seconds.

"Basically, and I hope this is not off-putting, it boils the blood in the vicinity of the laser tip," says Professor Myers. "That in turn will cause damage to the lining of the vein."

The "cooked" vein eventually shrivels and dies. Mark's blood will now begin to find other, less damaged veins to make its way to his heart, so his leg can begin to heal.

Just two and a half weeks later, Mark's got a spring back in his step. He reckons 75 percent of his pain has gone.

"It's a new lease on life. To be honest, I was a grumpy old bastard. I was just in agony the whole time. And virtually, since the procedure, I'm like Peter Pan — the little boy who hasn't grown up! Just getting out there and doing things.”

"There's no swelling and the inflammation's gone down considerably," smiles Mark. "All of the area where it's red on my leg used to be on fire. That was a lot of the pain I had and that's gone."

Mark's life has changed for the better, thanks to endovenus laser therapy.

The big question remains — does crossing your legs cause varicose veins?

Not according to Professor Myers. "There's no evidence at all that crossing your legs will either cause varicose veins or make varicose veins worse once they start to develop," he says. "Cross your legs with impunity — it’s not going to cause varicose veins."

Why veins become diseased is still a bit of a medical mystery, with Professor Myers saying that it's not known why some people develop varicose veins and not others, and why varicose veins might develop in one leg but not the other.

If you have varicose veins, here are the experts' top three tips for slowing their development:

1. Wear support stockings as often as you can during the day. They help push blood up towards the heart, preventing deterioration of weakened veins.

2. Put your feet up when you can; let gravity do some of the work.

3. Get plenty of exercise. It will keep your weight down and improve your muscle tone and circulation.

If you do have a history of varicose veins, you should take care to keep active and not become overweight and you'll have a better chance of keeping those veins at bay.

Fast facts

Women usually suffer worse varicose veins than men because they have babies. It's not the pressure of carrying the baby that's the problem; it's the female hormones that make smooth muscles in veins relax, soften, and weaken.


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