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Ankle-deep in pain: Chronic venous insufficiency

If you have ongoing pain in your ankles, you could be making it worse by standing on your feet all day.

Too much standing, or sitting for that matter, can aggravate a condition known as chronic venous insufficiency.

The uphill battle

Chronic venous insufficiency, or CVI, is a common condition that occurs more frequently in women than in men. To understand the problem, think of the body’s circulatory system as a winding road.

Arteries are one-way roads that carry blood away from the heart in a downhill direction. Veins carry oxygen-rich blood in the opposite direction toward the heart.

To reduce the extra pumping force needed to return blood to the heart on the uphill climb, veins contain valves that propel the blood and prevent it from backwashing.

If the veins fail to channel the blood properly, blood leaks and pools in the ankles and feet. Leg injuries or blood clots can also trigger this condition. It’s also more likely to occur as people age or become overweight.

People with CVI most often experience swelling, chronic pain, varicose veins and a progressive degeneration and thickening of the skin near the ankle.

What to do

Physicians treat CVI in a number of ways. People diagnosed with the condition are told to take a load off their feet—literally, by elevating their legs often and avoiding prolonged sitting or standing.

Those support stockings your grandmother wore are still used to treat this condition. Available at pharmacies, they allow graduated compression to help with blood flow.

Massage and walking also help increase venous blood flow and prevent pooling. Medications such as blood thinners as well as vitamins and herbal supplements like horse chestnut are sometimes recommended to help promote circulation.

Check with your doctor before taking any supplements. Also see your doctor regularly, especially if skin ulcers develop.

Look for these signs

  • swelling of the lower extremities
  • a dull achiness, heaviness or cramping in the legs or ankles
  • discoloration of the skin on the ankles
  • varicose veins
  • skin ulcers