Learn All about Heavy Legs

Heavy legs appear due to insufficient venous return. While some cases require medical intervention, this conditional can be improved with lifestyle changes.
Learn All about Heavy Legs

Last update: 09 September, 2020

The demands of everyday life can greatly affect our health. It’s normal to feel fatigued after hours of standing. However, if the sensation is continuous, you could be suffering from heavy legs, something that’s more common than many think.

Fortunately, heavy legs isn’t a serious condition. Nevertheless, it can limit your everyday activities, which is why it must be monitored and controlled.

Heavy legs syndrome affects 20-30% of the adult population. It affects 50% of people over 50 and is five times more common in women. Also, it’s more common in obese people or those with sedentary habits or who spend a lot of time standing.

Unfortunately, in many cases, this health problem is directly related to a person’s profession or job. Spending many hours standing or sitting can adversely affect your health and the health of your legs.

In this article, we tell you all about heavy legs, its symptoms and causes, and tips to prevent it or improve it.

What are heavy legs?

Due to the natural cellular aging process, the cell walls increase in size. This makes the blood vessels, which are made up of many cells, more fragile, and less effective.

The function of the veins is to collect blood from the entire body and return it to the heart. Regarding the venous system of the legs, for the blood to rise (in the opposite direction to gravity), it has small valves that prevent it from receding, in addition to a muscular layer that aids pumping.

When there’s a poor venous return, either because the pumping fails or because the blood remains stagnant, the first symptoms appear and may include heaviness, tiredness, and swelling of the legs. This happens when fluid leaks from the veins into the tissues.

If this extends, due to the excessive pressure suffered by the venous walls, they lose the ability to contain the blood inside them. This is when varicose veins and the common vascular disease known as chronic venous insufficiency (CVI) appear.

A woman who's suffering from heaviness in the legs.
Heavy legs can be caused by insufficient venous return.

Symptoms of heavy legs

In general, the usual signs and symptoms of heavy legs are:

  • Heaviness and swelling in the legs
  • Pain
  • Itching
  • Tiredness
  • Muscle cramps
  • Nocturnal paresthesias (feeling of numbness in the legs)
  • Tingling and stiffness
  • Varicose veins or spider veins (dilated veins, as they aren’t able to return all the blood to the heart. Spider veins are smaller and reddish in color, while varicose veins are larger and have a more bluish color)
  • Swelling, which worsens when you’re standing or not moving for a long time

In addition, you should know that the most common symptoms in most cases are itching, heaviness, and pain.

What factors influence their appearance?

Some factors, such as those we describe below, predispose people to heavy legs and can be avoided.

  • Age: Various studies show that the frequency of venous diseases is 60% in people over 65.
  • Personal medical history (previous circulatory disease).
  • Genetic predisposition (family history).
  • Hormonal status (particularly during pregnancy and menopause or if you’re taking oral contraceptives or undergoing hormone replacement therapy).
  • Foot morphology: Flat feet (reduces the muscular contraction that normally occurs when you walk).

In addition, some avoidable factors aggravate the syndrome, such as:

  • Physical inactivity.
  • Standing or sitting for many hours a day.
  • Prolonged sun or heat exposure.
  • High-risk jobs: health personnel, hostesses, hospitality personnel, hairdressers, housekeepers, office workers, drivers, teachers, and telephone operators, among others.
  • Excess weight or obesity, especially in the case of women. Increased fatty tissue in the legs complicates the effectiveness of the muscle pump that aids venous return.
  • Constipation, because it causes an increase in abdominal pressure and can make it difficult for the blood to flow back to the heart.
  • Tight clothing on the legs and hips, as it interferes with venous return.
  • High temperatures. Heat causes dilation of the veins and makes it difficult for the blood to flow back to the heart.

All these factors can be modified before the onset of the syndrome and you can help relieve your discomfort and long-term complications.

A woman putting on tight jeans.
Modifiable factors can lead to heavy legs. One of them is wearing overly tight clothes.

Visit this interesting article: How to Prevent and Treat Poor Leg Circulation

Tips for the prevention and relief of heavy legs

The main solution to prevent heavy legs is to change your lifestyle habits. Here are the measures that you can resort to prevent the condition or relieve its possible effects if it appears:

  • Keep your legs elevated. Elevate your legs for at least 30 minutes, two to three times a day. You should sit and elevate your legs above the hip level, supported on an armchair, without crossing them.
  • Exercise every day, at least 30-60 minutes a day. Avoid lifting weights with your legs. Experts recommend aerobic activities such as swimming, cycling, pilates, or yoga.
  • Avoid excess weight. Follow a low-calorie diet.
  • Avoid sources of heat and excessive sun exposure. Coldwater baths can be beneficial.
  • Sleep with your legs elevated about four to eight inches.
  • Don’t wear tight clothing or footwear. It’s best to use garments made with natural fibers that allow the skin to breathe. Although some heel can be beneficial in footwear, you should avoid high heels.
  • Avoid constipation. Try to establish a daily stool pattern by establishing new habits.
  • Control your blood pressure.
  • Massage from the feet up. This aids circulation and decreases fluid buildup in the ankles.
A person putting on compression bandages due to heavy legs.
In the case of heavy legs, medical professionals can suggest therapeutic options such as compression socks or bandages.

Possible treatments

Although heavy legs isn’t a serious condition, it’s becoming increasingly common. Currently, medical professionals recommend the following options:

  • Compression therapy. This consists of applying pressure to the legs through the use of elastic compression bandages or socks. You must choose the appropriate compression, size, and model, which will be different for each person. Thus, you must make sure to consult a professional.
  • Hydrotherapy. Showers combined with massages with cold water or alternating cold water with lukewarm water. This helps stimulate venous circulation.
  • Phytotherapy. Some medicinal plants help improve blood circulation. Remember to only use those recommended by a professional and supervised by a pharmacist. Some examples are ginkgo biloba, butcher’s broom, and witch hazel, among others.
  • Drugs. This consists of the administration of venotonics, always under medical prescription, which improves venous return.
  • Vascular surgery. This is only done in extreme cases.

In short, heavy legs is a condition that can affect your quality of life if you don’t treat it in a timely manner. Therefore, it’s advisable to consult your doctor at the first symptoms.

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