Can Vein Treatment Or Compression Stockings Improve Athletic Performance?


The weather is changing...finally! The days are getting longer and the sun feels warmer. Parks and trails are full of people at all levels of athletic ability heading outside. It's increasingly common to see athletes of all ages and abilities wearing compression stockings. Is it just a fashion statement, or is there a legitimate reason? Let's take a look.

What Patients Taught Me About Vein Conditions and Exercise

They don’t teach us in medical school how vein conditions decrease athletic performance.  I had to learn about this from listening to patient stories. One really sticks out in my mind and left a lasting impression. This patient was a 45-year-old nurse whose lifelong passion was running. She ran regularly during the week and participated in 10K races and half marathons. She wore compression stockings regularly. A serious athlete, she knew her times and what to expect from her performance. With a runner's thin body, she also had bulging veins on one of her legs that were painful. She explained that they had been slowly getting bigger ever since they appeared when her 22-year-old son was born. During a recent 10K, she struggled to finish because her legs were more tired than usual, and she knew something was wrong. When I saw her I found that she had very abnormal and stagnant blood flow in her veins, and I told her that her leg aching and fatigue would get better after treatments. What I didn’t expect was the remarkable improvement treatments would have on her race performance. After just one treatment, she went on to participate in a half-marathon about 4 weeks later. When I saw her next, she told me that she had not only run the race but she boasted it was her personal best! She was ecstatic! Stories like this from athletically-inclined patients have convinced me that vein conditions definitely reduce performance, and that vein treatments definitely help.  


What about compression stockings? Since they help reduce fatigue and the symptoms of a vein condition, wearing them can improve performance - if you have a vein condition. To be sure, it helps to get a diagnosis for this so that you can know for sure. That's easily done with an online screening. If you do have a vein condition and want to see if compression stockings will help your athletic performance, I suggest you simply test them out. Try wearing them for a period of time to see how they work for you and how wearing them affects your athletic performance.  

Do Athletes Develop Vein Conditions?

Athletes can and do develop vein conditions. Vein conditions are not isolated to your grandmother; they also happen in men and young people. My own story is a classic example of this. With athletes, it’s important to note that even though exercise can reduce the symptoms of a vein condition—it is still possible for normally healthy athletes to develop venous insufficiency. In these cases, compression stockings will help control leg pain, swelling, and fatigue, but definitive vein treatments give the most relief.

How Does a Vein Condition Affect Athletic Performance?

Vein reflux is a common problem and the abnormal stagnant blood can have several effects on athletic performance and exercise. Normally when you walk or run, the muscles in the legs pump the blood back up to the heart and the vein pressure in your legs goes down. With vein reflux, this does not happen normally, and the blood backs up in the leg at the very moment when you are exercising. This is the signature abnormality of vein reflux and is called ambulatory venous hypertension. This is one reason athletic performance is worse with vein reflux. Another is the effect the condition has on sleep since poor quality sleep is known to have an adverse effect on performance. This is due in part, because of vein reflux, to the body's failure to revitalize muscles and nerves, and therefore, they fatigue more easily. It is also due to interference with non-REM sleep; during this phase of sleep, growth hormone is released. When non-REM sleep is reduced, the amount of growth hormone released is subsequently reduced as well. Your body's growth hormone is important, as it helps with muscle health, tissue growth and athletic performance. Lastly, a vein condition leads to a build-up of inflammatory biochemicals in the bloodstream. Inflammatory molecules are a well-known cause of general fatigue and poor athletic performance, and this is certainly the case with vein conditions which always increase inflammation in the bloodstream.  

So, with the presence of a vein condition, only vein treatment will ultimately solve the problem. However, compression stockings can help with all these factors to some degree. It should be noted that the benefit to ambulatory venous hypertension can only occur when the stockings are worn while exercising. Know that everyone is different, and therefore not everyone with a vein condition experiences an exercise improvement with the use of stockings. In some cases, the vein condition may be too advanced to see a benefit. However, most people do note some improvement and in both cases, vein treatments will predictably give even more relief from symptoms and improvement in athletic performance. 

What Exactly Are Compression Stockings?

Compression stockings are those snug-fitting, stretchy socks that gently squeeze the wearer's legs. They can be easily obtained either over the counter (at a store or online), or your health care provider might prescribe them to you. If the latter, your insurance might pay for your stockings, but this is not common.

The point of compression stockings is to put pressure on your legs to help the veins effectively deliver the flow of blood more efficiently back to your heart. In the case of a vein condition, the valves in your veins fail to close completely, allowing blood to pool in your legs. Compression stockings mimic the work of the valves helping them close more completely. Their use will help temporarily alleviate the symptoms of a vein condition i.e. leg swelling and discomfort.  Compression stockings reduce the stagnant blood when vein reflux is present and in doing so, reduce the amount of inflammation in the body.  

Can Compression Stockings (and Even Compression Sleeves) Help Muscle Recovery with a Vein Condition?

It's no secret that regular exercise improves the symptoms of a vein condition, but does the reverse work: can compression stocking use improve exercise performance? Compression stockings are gaining popularity, especially with runners.  Evidence suggests that—when compression stockings are worn relatively tightly and for a minimum of a few hours after a workout—they can aid in muscle recovery, minimizing pain and restoring blood flow. To know if this works for you, you will have to give it a try.  If you have some soreness normally after a workout, see if the stockings reduce this and you will have your answer. 

Compression stockings support the lymphatic and venous systems in the legs, helping muscles rid themselves of the lactic acid which builds up during and after a rigorous workout. They may also offer limited stability and protection for the joints, as the compression provides a layer of additional support.

Can Compression Stockings Actually Improve Performance if You DON'T Have a Vein Condition?

While it is clear that stockings help people with vein conditions with athletic performance, there is no evidence to suggest that compression stockings improve athletic performance for people with normal veins. With that said, many athletes swear by them, claiming that the recovery benefits and reduction of calf strain make them well-worth wearing. Plus, except for the time it takes to put them on, there are few adverse effects reported, mostly related to stockings that are too small causing numbness.  

The choice of whether or not to use compression stockings remains a personal one. If you have leg fatigue and soreness in your calves, knee-high stockings are all you need.  If you have thigh soreness after exercise, you should try thigh-high or pantyhose style. Thigh-highs work well when exercising if you wear exercise tights over them to prevent them from slipping down. If you notice a difference when wearing them, you will have your answer.

If you do experience aching, fatigue, or swelling during or after a workout—or if you have any of the more visible signs of a vein condition such as varicose veins or spider veins—this may be due to a vein reflux condition. Compression stockings may help and if there is a vein condition, vein treatments provide the most symptom and athletic improvement. Schedule an online vein screen to see if this may be your problem.


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