Preventing venous insufficiency : what you need to know

Venous insufficiency, also called chronic venous disease, is a blood circulation disorder appearing in the veins in the legs. It is a condition where women are most affected, even more likely when they’re over 50 and beyond. In 2020, there were 20% of Canadians who suffered from at least one symptom of venous insufficiency. The problem is that very few people are aware of the link between the symptoms and the disease, believing it to be just an age-related phenomenon. This therefore leads to too few consultations with specialists, and to potential complications.

Venous insufficiency should be distinguished from arterial insufficiency, which is linked to a problem with blood circulation in an artery. Often, this is a narrowing or even occlusion of the artery, reducing blood flow to the buttock, hip, thighs, calves and more rarely to the feet.

Do you feel like your legs are heavy at the end of the day or at night? Do you think you have venous insufficiency, and would like to know how to fix it? In this article, we explain all about the symptoms, as well as the remedies available to prevent venous insufficiency and the phenomenon of heavy legs.

What are the causes of venous insufficiency ? 

Healthy valves in the veins carry the one-way flow of blood to the organs. They are even more important in the legs, since they must prevent the blood from going down with gravity. When the valves are defective and the venous walls damaged, the blood no longer travels as well to the organs and the heart, and stagnates in the diseased veins. These veins become more and more fragile, which then leads to the progression of the disease.

What are the symptoms of venous insufficiency ? 

Many people often mixed up the symptoms for signs of aging, or as a normal factor in excessive fatigue. There may be visible signs, such as the appearance of varicose veins, spots and redness, as well as internal symptoms characterized by heavy and sore legs. There are several symptoms that can make you think about possible venous insufficiency. First, there are the first functional signs of the disease, that is, localized pain such as numbness, cramps and swelling.

  • Heavy legs from prolonged standing. This discomfort usually goes away when walking, when the legs are raised on a pillow, or after a night’s sleep lying down.
  • Cramps in the calves and feet. These symptoms are found in 30% of cases of chronic venous disease. With poor drainage, the blood directed to the lower limbs is poor in oxygen, and causes a long-lasting and abnormal contraction of the muscle.
  • Phlebalgia results from a painful passage of blood through a vein. The small saphenous vein circuit, for example, begins on the inside of the thigh, goes through the back of the leg, and ends on the outside of the ankle. These pains can make you throb while standing or sitting.
  • Feelings of pins and needles, tingling, itching and sometimes burning, which are called “impatience”. These uncomfortable sensations make us want to move, get up and stretch our legs.

Then come the physical symptoms of venous insufficiency, which are found in the form of localized swelling:

  • Edemas (swelling) can eventually form in the calves and ankles, due to the stagnant interstitial fluid. Normally, this fluid, located between the blood and the tissues, is released into the circulation. In the case of poor circulation, it disperses in the tissues and causes the area to swell. Edemas are the earliest symptoms in this type of pathology.
  • Telangiectasias: they are permanent dilations of small vessels, capillaries or venules. They draw small red or purple lines under the skin. These small vessels, thin as hair, sometimes take a star shape.

Finally, there are the symptoms related to the progression of the disease. Know that it is very important to consult a specialist or your general practitioner, as soon as heavy legs appear.

  • The appearance of varicose veins: they are the consequence of a failure of the valves of the saphenous vein. When the valves responsible for blood flow are damaged, blood tends to flow back to more superficial, much thinner veins. These then increase in size and become more visible.
  • Permanent edemas in the ankles, calves and legs. They are not decreasing or hardly at all.
  • Skin that becomes brownish and dry, venous edema (persistent sores), or eczema.

Do not worry, venous insufficiency is not inevitable, and it is possible to implement, every day, simple actions that can prevent and relieve this pathology. Healthy living, for example, is an essential component in the treatment of chronic venous disease. It is therefore important to take a close look at our diet, our sedentary lifestyle and our current habits.

What sports to practice to prevent heavy legs and venous insufficiency?

Sport is a very good remedy for heavy legs, since it promotes good blood circulation, especially through the practice of “gentle” activities.

  • Sports to avoid:
    • basketball, athletics, handball (the rebounds of the body weaken the venous walls);
    • rugby, squash, football (they cause impacts not recommended for venous insufficiency);
    • weightlifting, combat sports and heavy lifting that require excessive muscle contractions, as well as frequent blockage of breathing.
  • Sports to focus on:
    • aquabike;
    • bicycle and elliptical trainer (all sports with pedals are very interesting, because they allow a very good venous return);
    • swimming (sport without impact, with gentle movements);
    • brisk walking (fluidity of circulation in a lively and efficient manner);
    • cross-country skiing (a practice without impact with the glide of the ski).

After all physical activity, it is recommended that you stretch well and drink a lot of water to help your circulation flow more smoothly. You feel your legs are lighter, and the toxins are released much faster. 

Know that in addition to physical activity, our everyday positions and postures are also important. We can only advise you to forget the cross-legged position for example. Indeed, in addition to causing long-term rotation of the pelvis, an abnormal inclination of the shoulders and a port of the head moved forward, there is a risk of an increase in blood pressure, in addition to an bigger risk of an accumulation of blood in the lower limbs in people who are more vulnerable. This can lead to inflammation of the veins in the lower legs or, more seriously, the formation of a blood clot.

Finally, do not hesitate either, if you work most of the time sitting or standing in a static position, to take short breaks of 5 minutes of walking every hour: the movements activate the blood pump which thins the blood.

Which foods to favor in order to improve blood circulation?

When it comes to diet, many foods have many benefits for relieving your symptoms of chronic venous disease:

  • Red vine: in capsule, powder, infusion or drops of mother tincture, it is very effective in the fight against varicose veins and heavy legs, thanks to its proanthocyanidins (OPC).
  • Chocolate: good news for sweet tooth, chocolate with at least 70% cocoa offers many benefits on health, and in particular on blood circulation.
  • Ginger: eaten fresh, just grated and infused in hot water, it is an excellent plant with multiple benefits.
  • Watermelon: an excellent diuretic and antioxidant, watermelon should be consumed without moderation! Very refreshing, it is ideal to help relieve varicose veins.
  • Garlic: in the morning, raw and on an empty stomach, this is undoubtedly one of the best techniques to boost circulation! However, be careful with those around you, who might not appreciate it at the same level…
  • Turmeric: it is the ultimate natural medicine! In addition to its many antioxidant, anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory benefits, turmeric decreases the build-up of plaque in the arteries. The best to fluidize your venous return.
  • Cayenne pepper: along with the capsaicin it contains, cayenne pepper stimulates blood circulation and strengthens the arteries. However, it is not recommended for pregnant women.
  • Green tea: draining and antioxidant, green tea is excellent for your health, and for your circulation.
  • Salmon: this fish is loaded with fatty acids and Omega-3 which are very good for the brain, but also to improve your blood flow.
  • Goji berries: to incorporate in your salads or as a snack, they are rich in antioxidants, in particular carotenoids.

What are the treatments for venous insufficiency?

There are many treatments for venous insufficiency, ranging from simple orthopedic equipment to surgery. The best way to find out what is best for your symptoms is to have an ultrasound (Doppler ultrasound) from your general practitioner, or from a specialist.

Compression stockings are offered as the orthopedic solution of choice. It’s even better when they come up to your knees. We also opt for elevation of the legs, when possible. This can be via a footrest at the desk, or with a pillow when sleeping. Self-service creams and gels at drugstores also help relieve symptoms of failure, but do not treat the underlying problem of damaged veins.

You can also be prescribed venotonic drugs and / or carry out regular lymphatic drainage to fight against edema and heavy legs. For cases that require more intensive treatment, certain interventions are then recommended. Indeed, if the vein is too damaged, it will have to be removed.


Sclerotherapy is an ablative method that involves injecting a sclerosing product into the vein so as to dry it out, then gradually make it disappear. This treatment is used to permanently remove varicose veins and varicose vessels. It is performed in a phlebology or angiology office. Completely non-invasive, it does not require an incision or anesthesia.

Laser or radiofrequency

This “thermal” method allows to heat the collagen of the vein, to stick it and thus to close it completely. Entirely performed in the operating room, the operation is fairly rapid and shows remarkable efficiency, with a recurrence rate of less than 5% within 15 years. With laser or radio frequency, you have the advantage of being able to treat all sizes of vein, and to avoid the formation of dark spots that may occur with other types of procedures.

Ultrasound therapy

Observed as one of the best alternatives to surgery, ultrasound therapy is a technique that combines two categories of ultrasound which, with their heat diffusion, burns and destroys the targeted tissues. Completely non-invasive, the procedure only lasts about 20 to 60 minutes, and delivers as many pulses as needed to treat the entire vein. Ultrasound therapy is performed in an office, without anesthesia or incision.

The 7 stages of venous insufficiency

The world medical profession distinguishes 7 stages in chronic venous disease, which allows it to locate the evolution of the spread. It is called the CEAP classification system (clinical, etiological, anatomical and pathophysiological signs).

  • Stage C0: internal symptoms such as a feeling of heaviness in the legs, without any noticeable or palpable signs;
  • Stage C1: small telangiectasia veins are visible on the legs, measuring less than 3 mm;
  • Stage C2: varicose veins visible on the legs, measuring more than 3 mm;
  • Stage C3: edema (swelling) in the ankle, capillaries do not work, water stagnates in the legs;
  • Stage 4: We progress to more serious physical manifestations, including pigmentation (darkening) of the skin, eczema (redness, itching), lipodermatosclerosis (hardening of soft tissues), and white atrophy (whitish patches of skin );
  • Stage 5: presence of a scarred ulcer visible on the skin;
  • Stage 6: the most severe form, with an open, unhealed ulcer.

Chronic venous disease is a pathology affecting mainly women, and its causes are largely linked to our sedentary lifestyle. Through small everyday actions, such as more physical activity, better posture and hydration, it is possible to prevent venous insufficiency. It is important, as soon as heavy legs appear, to consult a specialist who will direct you to the treatment path best suited to your situation.