There are many myths and old wives tales about varicose veins. Some about prevention and some about activities post treatment. We explore some of them below.
In years gone by, following surgery or after a long hospital stay, patients often developed deep vein thromboses (DVT) in the leg veins. In some cases, the clot could break off and travel to the lungs causing a pulmonary embolism (PE) that could prove fatal.
Of course, nowadays patients are given special stockings and also injections of subcutaneous heparin to reduce this risk. However, before these measures were available and before the problem was fully understood, nurses and doctors used to tell patients not to cross their legs, thinking that it was the pressure on the calf that caused the DVT.
This varicose veins myth has become so prevalent that most people have forgotten that it used to be a DVT-related ‘truism’ and simply assume that it is sound medical advice to stop the development of varicose veins.
The truth is… it’s another varicose veins myth!
If simple pressure from crossing one’s legs really did cause venous problems, then we would all be constantly getting DVT or varicose veins every time we sat down or did anything that put any pressure on the legs. You can rest assured that we humans have evolved in such a way that the important veins of the legs are protected from the points of pressure during such movements as sitting, kneeling… and, of course, crossing legs.
One of the major roles of our veins is to regulate the body’s temperature. Veins work in co-operation with arteries and capillaries to control the flow of the blood to the skin, allowing heat to be lost or retained.
Having a hot bath causes the capillaries to dilate, making the skin go characteristically red. However this is a normal reaction and as soon as you get out of the bath, the capillaries start to contract again and everything goes back to normal.
The development of varicose veins has nothing whatsoever to do with this normal dilation of capillaries and small veins. Otherwise, we’d develop varicose veins not just in just one leg or one part of one leg, but all the way up to the waist… and on both legs, depending on the depth of the bathwater!
The only time The Whiteley Protocol® calls for hot baths to be avoided is following sclerotherapy treatment for varicose veins. We advise patients not to go into hot weather or hot baths for at least 14 days after treatment as the effect of dilating veins in the process of healing can result in increased blood flow into dying veins, which in turn can result in brown stains on the skin.
This particular varicose veins myth came about as a result of an observation once made by one of the pioneering heroes of varicose vein surgery, a very charismatic Irish surgeon called Professor George Fegan. The Professor mentioned in conversation that a patient who had walked home after sclerotherapy went on to enjoy the best post-surgical outcome that he had ever seen. This story was passed on, repeated, and interpreted by generations of vein specialists until his supposed recommendation for patients to walk 5 miles every day post surgery passed into folklore as a piece of ‘best practice’…
There certainly is some truth that walking after any vein treatment reduces the risk of deep vein thrombosis and is therefore a good idea. But at The Whiteley Clinic, we don’t encourage our patients to hike for 5 miles every day!
The venous surgery that we perform using local anaesthetic is ‘ambulatory’ surgery, meaning patients do indeed literally walk in and walk out, enabling them to get straight back to everyday life and normal activities.
Yet another varicose veins myth!