Achy legs after taking part in heavy exercise isn't much of a surprise, especially if you're not used to that level of physical activity. If your legs continually ache and feel heavy, however, you could have varicose veins. This condition is common in the United States, affecting up to 60 percent of Americans, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center. While varicose veins are often a cosmetic issue, you need to consult your doctor if you're experiencing leg discomfort.
Understanding Varicose Veins
The veins in your legs transport blood to your heart. When valves within them become damaged or weakened, the blood instead accumulates in the veins. This causes the characteristic bulging blue veins associated with this disorder; however, it is possible to have symptoms without visible varicose veins. In addition to achy, heavy legs, other potential symptoms include ankle or foot swelling, burning sensation in the legs and itching around the veins. This vein disorder is more common in women, but the U.S. Office on Women's Health reports that 40 to 45 percent of men have leg vein dysfunction as well.
Multiple factors play a role in the development of varicose veins. Simply getting older raises your risk because your veins weaken with age. Lack of physical activity -- including sitting or standing for extended periods -- also increases the risk. Obesity and pregnancy puts excess pressure on the leg veins as well. Hormonal changes in women, including those resulting from using oral contraception or hormone replacement therapy, also play a role. Family history is also a significant risk factor.
Varicose veins do not always cause serious health problems, but the potential does exist. Your leg discomfort over time could affect your ability to carry out normal activities. Eventually, the pooled blood in the veins could cause skin sores that are difficult to heal. Development of blood clots also occur as a result of this vein disorder, causing leg swelling, pain and redness. The affected vein may be sensitive or warm. Skin sores should be reported to your doctor -- signs of a blood clot require immediate medical attention.
If your achy, heavy legs are linked to varicose veins, the goal is to prevent them from getting worse. Lifestyle changes also reduce your likelihood of developing new ones. Losing excess weight and keeping physically active are ways to improve circulation and relieve pressure on your legs. Limit salt intake in favor of fiber-rich foods, including whole grains, dark leafy greens and dark berries -- these may improve vein health, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center. Don't wear tight clothes on your lower half as this can affect blood flow. Avoid sitting or standing for long periods of time and make an effort to change positions regularly.