Vein disease can develop anywhere in the body, but the most common areas by far are the lower legs and feet – and if you think about it, those locations make sense: After all, your feet and lower legs are well below the level of your heart for most of the day and night, which means your veins have to work extra hard to pump the blood all the way back to your heart, placing additional stress and strain on the valves inside those veins. Plus, the veins in your feet and lower legs have to support your weight for a good part of the day, which places them under even greater stress, especially if you’re overweight or obese.
Venous Disease and the Calf Muscle Pump
Blood flow from the lower legs and feet is facilitated through the valves in your veins as well as a special pumping mechanism in the calf. In fact, your legs each have three special “pumps” to aid in circulation: the foot pump, which helps fill the lower leg veins, the thigh pump which provides general support to the veins and the calf pump, which is responsible for exerting a major “push” on blood in the leg veins, helping it to return to the lungs and heart. In a healthy vein system, each time the calf muscle contracts, or flexes, it forces about 70 percent of the blood in the legs back toward the heart. When the calf muscle relaxes, the deeper veins in the legs are filled with blood
The calf muscle pump works best when it’s being exercised, which is one of the major reasons why regular walking can play such an important role in maintaining leg circulation and avoiding varicose vein formation in the legs.
When the calf muscle pump isn’t working “up to speed,” blood flow in the legs and feet can be significantly impaired, resulting in vein disease issues like vein reflux and varicose veins, as well as deeper and more widespread venous disease like chronic venous insufficiency (CVI) and deep vein thrombosis, or DVT.
Improving Calf Muscle Pump Function
Studies have suggested one way to keep the calf muscle pump working properly is to engage in regular exercise that helps keep the muscle as healthy as possible. In fact, one study conducted by researchers at the New Jersey Medical School, University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey and the Veterans Affairs New Jersey Health Care System found just six months of calf muscle exercises significantly improved calf muscle function in patients with severe CVI, suggesting a program of exercises directed at improving calf muscle strength could be a valuable tool for patients with serious venous disease like CVI or with risk factors for the condition.
Of course, before beginning any exercise program – even one designed to treat vein disease and improve vascular health – you should always be evaluated by a doctor to ensure you’re healthy enough to participate in exercises, and to have your veins evaluated to rule out issues like clots that could be exacerbated by strenuous motion of the calf muscle. At Tri-City Cardiology, we provide state-of-the-art evaluations for patients suffering from venous disease, varicose veins and other vein-related conditions. Call today to schedule your evaluation and take the first step toward enjoying better health.