Varicose veins, those knobby little (or not so little) bluish veins that pop out, ache, and can make one second guess wearing those short shorts of summer. Most commonly these are seen on the legs, but they can show up anywhere on the body and often have a revival during pregnancy and can manifest as hemorrhoids or in the vulva area.
Women are more prone to varicose veins than men and heredity can certainly have a part in who has them and who doesn’t but if you’ve already got them, what’s most important is that there is help!
Varicose veins are related to the circulation in the body and they can be extremely painful for people causing aching, throbbing, heaviness in their limbs and, in worst-case scenarios, significant health risk through blockage in the veins.
Veins are essential for returning de-oxygenated blood to the heart and small leaflet valves throughout help ensure the blood doesn’t flow in the wrong direction (essential when you’re working against gravity as happens in areas like the legs). When veins weaken, the blood pools in certain areas causing distention and swelling in the veins, which makes them visible under the skin.
What Does Chinese Medicine Have to Say About This?
In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) we look at the body as a whole, not simply as an individual symptom or condition. We always seek to find the root of what’s going on and rebalance the body from the core of the imbalance – which then ends up helping the symptoms or condition, in addition to helping the individual feel better overall.
The beauty of looking at the body this way, is the that there are many things that can be done to help with whatever symptoms are presenting, but also help prevent things from coming back. Kind of like looking at the body as an ecosystem (what we eat, think, how we live, genetic etc) instead of like a machine with every part isolated on its own.
2 Main Causes of Varicose Veins
Varicose veins have two patterns associated with it – a prolapse or weakened/deficient side (the natural tone and ability to ‘hold’ the blood in place is lost) and a blood stasis or circulation side (blood is pooling in the veins and not moving causing the veins to protrude). In order to help improve and heal the patterns with varicose veins, we need to look at both of these.
Lack of circulation
Stasis means stuck. Things aren’t moving as they should and, in this case, blood is pooling in areas when it should be flowing or moving. We need to move things for this pattern to improve. Signs of stasis can show up in other areas of the body – fixed stabbing pain or headaches, a slightly purplish colour to the tongue or nails, chronic shoulder tension, irritability, strong period pain particularly before your cycle starts or clots in your cycle are all signs there is a stagnation in the body. Also, if you’re experiencing a lot of spider veins along with your varicose veins, it is a sign there is more stasis to your pattern.
Eating foods that help to move your internal energy (Qi in TCM terms) is essential. Using foods such as apple cider vinegar or turmeric regularly can be of a big help. Adding a cup of apple cider vinegar to your bath at night or make a topical blend along with witch hazel can be helpful when used regularly.
Other moving foods include herbs such as basil, caraway, coriander, marjoram, dill, turmeric, chive and garlic. Teas made with tangerine peel, peppermint and fennel are wonderful for moving the Qi and food such as carrots, turnip, watercress, squash, radish, plum, grapefruit and peach are all helpful.
It is also essential to exercise and move your body, particularly the large muscles of the legs to improve circulation and this ‘stuck’ pattern. The natural squeezing of the muscles around the veins helps to pump the blood back up towards the heart and out of the stagnant areas. Avoiding long periods of sitting or standing is also key. Even doing calf raises or light squats if you find yourself stationary for too long can be very helpful.
Lack of tone and energy
The other major pattern associated with varicose veins is one of prolapse or a depleted side showing up as a lack of tone or energy in the body. This can also show up in the digestive system with looser bowels, getting bloated or easily tired after meal, as well as periods that are heavy with pale watery flow or bruising easily. Someone with this pattern may also have things like chronic nasal congestion or feeling stuffy after eating or being really affected by damp and humid weather (feeling puffy, more achy or foggy headed)
Overwork, eating overly cold, frozen or raw food actually has a huge impact on this pattern so what we eat and how we work and rest can have a big impact on improvement of varicose veins.
To support this energy and our Qi we need to eat foods which release energy steadily into our system over a long period of time.
We say eating foods with a strong life force (fresh, organic, local foods are ideal) eaten with the minimal amount of processing.
Foods which nourish this pattern tend to be naturally sweet (carrots, beets, whole grains) should be lightly cooked or prepared into soups or stews for easy absorption, particularly if someone suffers from a lot of qi deficient/digestive signs. Other nourishing foods for this pattern include quinoa, tempeh, chicken, beef, oats, cherries, sweet potato or yams and squash
Be sure to avoid frozen, raw or cold foods directly from the fridge. Dairy, processed sugar, refined food or over consumption of flour products should be avoided as well.
In general a whole-food diet of lightly cooked, fresh foods, organic meats, vegetables and fruits is a great place to start. To decrease the inflammation in your body, avoid processed foods or overly sweet or sugary foods (inflammation causes stagnation in the body and can dramatically contribute to varicose and spider veins in the long run). Natural fiber, antioxidants, omega-3 rich foods and magnesium rich foods (avocado, leafy greens, cruciferous foods and sweet potato) are all helpful as well.
Acupuncture for varicose veins
Both acupuncture and acupressure on a regular basis can be a huge help for the discomfort (physically and emotionally) of varicose veins.
Acupuncture helps to invigorate the blood to move in the veins and surrounding areas and breaks up any of the stasis or pooled blood. We also use specific acupuncture points to treat the underlying imbalance and strengthen the body as a whole and prevent further problems. Sometimes we will lightly bleed a point along the channel, which relieves the pooled blood and stimulates circulation, which helps the blood flow and relieve the pressure and aching that so often accompanies varicose veins.
Regular treatments are key but one should be able to see a difference in the veins lying close to the surface of the skin within a few treatments. The dark blue or purple color should lighten considerably when the new and fresh blood is able to flow back in.
Acupressure for varicose veins
Using acupressure at home between acupuncture sessions can help to strengthen the work done with the needles and strengthen the body and systems that are out of balance.
The following points are good to stimulate daily with a gentle but firm circular motion for 3-5 minutes on each point. It’s not uncommon for these points to be slightly sore or tender to the touch when first stimulated but will get less so over time.
Stomach 36: Is located four finger-widths below the kneecap on the outer side of your leg Apply moderate pressure with your thumb until you feel soreness. Hold for 3-5 minutes. Great for energy, tone and strengthening digestion in the body.
Spleen 6: Is located four finger-widths above the inner ankle bone, in the depression near the bone, on the right leg. Apply steady pressure with your thumb until you feel soreness. Hold for 3 minutes. Repeat on both legs
Helpful for increasing tone in the body and aiding digestion.
Liver 3: Is located on the top of your foot about two finger widths proximal (towards your body) to the place where the skin of your big toe and the next toe join. Great for reducing stress and helping with circulation in the body.
Liver 5: Is a local point where people often experience varicose veins and is good to help circulate the blood
Located on the inside of the lower leg about 5 inches above the highest point of your inner ankle bone along the line of the tibia bone.
As all conditions in the body are a manifestation of an internal pattern or imbalance, applying and integrating little things such as dietary changes, adequate exercis, and acupuncture or acupressure techniques regularly, you can see a big change over time…and should feel better overall in the process!