Why are Varicose Veins Primarily Found in the Legs?

May 1, 2021 The Vein Institute

When you think of varicose veins, it’s likely that you immediately think of bulging veins in the legs. Technically, any vein in our body could become varicose so why are varicose veins primarily found in the legs? There are a couple of reasons…

Firstly, it is all about gravity.

According to MyDr. – “Veins have the job of taking blood back to the heart. Blood moves from the superficial veins (found just under the skin) through perforator veins to the deep veins in the leg muscles. Because the leg veins are working against gravity, they have one-way valves inside them to prevent the backflow of blood. Your leg muscles also help the blood to flow the right way – when they are used, as in walking, they act as a pump, sending the blood in the veins up to the heart. If the walls of the leg veins lose their elasticity and weaken, the valves can stop functioning properly. This means that blood can flow backwards and pool in the veins, causing them to swell and become varicose. Varicose veins usually affect the superficial leg and foot veins (the veins just under the skin).”
Top and bottom images. The top image is a diagram showing a side-by-side of a varicose vein and a normal vein. The bottom image is a photo of a patient’s varicose leg veins.

A diagram showing a healthy vein with functioning valves on the left and a varicose vein with malfunctioning valves on the right. In the middle is an illustration of a person’s legs

Secondly, when you sit or stand for long periods of time, your muscles in the legs are not working.

This is because staying in one position for a long time forces your veins to work harder to pump blood to your heart. Your legs are part of the body most affected by being sedentary. The science proving that prolonged periods of standing or sitting increase varicose vein risk is pretty conclusive. A 2005 Danish study of nearly 10,000 workers found that “prolonged standing at work constitutes an excess risk of hospital treatment due to varicose vein, and accounts for more than one-fifth of all cases of working age.” A 2012 study in the journal Ergonomics concluded that “…the odds ratio of varicose veins was significantly high for prolonged standing for male and female workers.”

So, why are varicose veins primarily found in the legs?

Most other veins (eg. veins found in the arms) are closer to your heart than your legs are. The further away the veins, the longer and harder it takes for the blood to pump back to the heart.

TIP: If you are experiencing vein pain, avoid exposure to excessive heat e.g. hot tubs, spas, or saunas. Heat increases inflammation and swelling of the vein. Varicose veins are large and can become fragile. Rarely, excessive heat can rupture the veins and cause heavy bleeding inside the leg.

Mid-shot of Dr Zil Yassine taking an ultrasound scan of a female patient’s legs, where varicose veins are most likely to form

You may need treatment if you suffer from varicose veins. Our doctors are specialists who have undergone training in varicose vein laser treatment. Call us at 13 VEINS (that’s 13 83467), or fill out our booking request form.

Read more: What causes foot and leg pain?

Reference: www.mydr.com.au/womens-health/varicose-veins