Pain from damaged or weakened leg veins goes by the name chronic venous insufficiency (CVI). According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, it is not a serious health threat, but it can be painful and even disabling. This is where I usually tell you how many people suffer from it. But I won’t do that here, because we have only estimates. Researchers have offered numbers varying from 1% to 40% of the adult population. In any case, if you have it, you may be in some pain, which is why I suggest compression therapy for pain management.
Serious health threat or not, CVI can cause cramps, swelling, varicose veins, and leg ulcers. It can even cause an urge to move your legs (restless leg syndrome), particularly at night.
Blood Flow: Out and Back
You probably have a pretty good understanding of how the circulatory system works. Your heart pumps blood throughout your body, and at the the limit of its “service area,” the blood enters capillaries. The capillaries distribute the blood’s oxygen and nutrients. The capillaries are also connected to the veins, which then take the “used” blood back to the heart.
When it is flowing outward, the blood is under considerable force. But on the journey back, not so much. So your veins need special mechanisms to keep the blood moving. One of these mechanisms is leg movement. Repeatedly contracting your calf muscles, which you do when you walk, acts like a secondary heart and pushes the blood through the veins.
The veins have little one-way valves that also help the process by preventing the blood from flowing back. When you age, some of these valves wear out, which is why older people are at greater risk for venous disease than younger ones. Overweight people are also at greater risk, as are sedentary people. Other risk factors include pregnancy, family history, or injury (including surgery).
Compression Helps Blood Flow
Compression socks, of course, can help to keep venous blood flowing by squeezing the veins and making it difficult for the blood to flow back. But compression socks, even when they apply a compression gradient, offer only static compression.
Sequential pneumatic compression garments, on the other hand, create compression with inflatable cells. These cells can inflate progressively up or down the leg, which will help to keep the blood moving. We offer sequential pneumatic compression here at Peak Recovery & Health Center, and you can learn more about it here.
Compression Therapy for Pain Management
You would think that sequential pneumatic compression might be the principal treatment for the pain of CVI, but at this point, it is only an “emerging” treatment. Medicare or Medicaid won’t pay for it unless you have edema and ulceration that persists for six months despite static compression treatments. This situation is just beginning to change, as the effectiveness of this type of compression was a described in a major review article published in Cardiology and Therapy in 2021.
Note that same review article said that “Pneumatic intermittent compression therapy is contraindicated in patients with significant arterial insufficiency, edema due to congestive heart failure, active phlebitis, DVT, or local wound infection.”
So, if you don’t have any of those conditions, and you’re struggling with pain from CVI, ask your doctor about pneumatic compression. And consider some compression therapy sessions here at Peak. We don’t offer medical treatments, but we may be able to help you find some relief.