Varicose veins pain: causes, relief and treatment

Approximately 70% of people who have varicose veins will experience some degree of pain or discomfort that impacts their quality of life.¹ The good news is that there are things you can do to relieve symptoms, and there are highly effective walk-in-walk-out treatments available to get your legs feeling their best again in no time. 

What does varicose veins pain feel like?

Patients often describe varicose vein discomfort as a deep ache, a throbbing sensation or heaviness which may be accompanied by:

  • Muscle cramps;
  • Restless legs;
  • Dry, itchy or discoloured skin above the affected vein; and
  • Swollen ankles or feet.

The symptoms are different for everyone and can range from mild to severe. If you experience the symptoms described above but have no visible varicose veins, the problem is likely to stem from veins in the deeper layers of the skin.

What causes varicose vein leg pain?

Veins pump blood back up to the heart and therefore have to work against gravity. Valves in the veins keep the blood from flowing backwards and causing high pressure. In a patient with varicose veins, some of the valves that pump blood back up to the heart are faulty. Blood flows backwards and pools, which causes a build-up of pressure in the vein. Over time, the vein walls distend, and nerves in the vein become stretched, making them painful or uncomfortable.

Varicose veins pain can also be a sign of an underlying condition or complication, such as:

  • Lymphoedema – damage to the lymphatic system, causing swollen feet, ankles or toes.
  • Dermatitis – an itchy, inflamed rash that can lead to other complications.
  • Bleeding – surface varicose veins can rupture and bleed when knocked or cut.
  • Skin ulcers – skin that fails to heal from even minor injuries.
  • Cellulitis – a serious skin infection that causes inflammation to the soft tissue of the skin.
  • Superficial Thrombophlebitis (Phlebitis) – vein inflammation due to a stretch injury to the vein wall or a blood clot. The affected area becomes hard, inflamed and painful.
  • Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT) – a blood clot within a deep vein within the leg. A DVT is a serious medical condition that requires immediate medical treatment. Symptoms include swelling, heat, redness and pain in the affected leg.

How to relieve varicose vein pain

Unfortunately, there is little that people can do to prevent varicose veins from occurring. However, certain lifestyle changes can help to ease the symptoms and possibly prevent them from worsening.

Here are seven simple symptom relief methods to try:

  • Avoid standing or sitting for extended periods – try to get in the habit of getting up and moving around for a few minutes every 30 minutes.
  • Raise your legs above the level of the heart – do this as often as possible when resting, sitting or sleeping.
  • Do regular exercise to improve circulation and lower blood pressure – walking, swimming, yoga and cycling are good options.
  • Dietary changes – cut down on salty, sodium-rich foods; eat more high-fibre foods and foods that are rich in potassium and flavonoids.
  • Manage your weight – if you are overweight, follow a safe weight loss plan and make lifestyle changes to maintain a healthy weight.
  • Wear comfortable clothes and shoes – avoid wearing tight-fitting garments, hosiery and high-heeled shoes for long periods.
  • Massage – gently massage the legs to aid circulation.

Varicose vein treatment options

Gone are the days when varicose vein treatment meant painful surgery with long recovery times. In most cases, patients can elect to have non-surgical walk-in-walk-out treatments that use minimally invasive techniques, have fast recovery times and provide long-lasting relief. You can find out more about the best treatment options by clicking the button below.

Compare varicose vein treatment options

Will the NHS treat varicose veins?

The NHS will not usually treat varicose veins for cosmetic reasons. You may qualify for free treatment if you are experiencing severe complications, but in most cases, you will need to seek private treatment from a specialist vascular clinic.

What to look for in a private clinic or private hospital

Not all specialists that offer varicose vein procedures are specifically qualified or trained to assess and diagnose venous conditions. It’s therefore important to check a specialist’s credentials and experience to ensure that you are offered the most suitable procedure for your specific needs. A skilled consultant vascular surgeon will always begin treatment with a thorough consultation and clinical examination of your legs, which will include a duplex scan to assess your veins in line with NICE guidelines.

What does an Ultrasound Involve ?


¹ Wrona, M., Jockel, K., Pannier, F., Bock, E., Hoffmann, B., Rabe, E., Association of Venous Disorders with Leg symptoms: Results from the Bonn Vein Study 1. Eur J Vasc Endovasc Surg, 2015. 50: p. 260-267.

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