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Bodybuilding and Circulation: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

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Fitness buffs and weekend warriors, we admire your commitment to your personal health and fitness. It is true that the adrenaline rush, endorphins of your intense fitness regimens, and improved physique can make you feel like you’re on top of the world. We all love those compliments and enjoy the satisfaction of looking and feeling better.

At the same time, we want you to know the early signs of problems that can throw a wrench in your physical health and bodybuilding goals. Let’s explore the good, the bad, and the ugly of bodybuilding, including circulation, vein health, and your potential risk for blood clots and venous disease.

Bodybuilding Benefits for Circulation

We all know the benefits of regular exercise — healthy weight management, reduced risk of chronic disease development, and positive mental health outcomes. What you may not know is how exercise can impact your blood circulation in both positive and negative ways.

This is especially true with intense, high-impact bodybuilding workouts. Your body responds by increasing the blood flow to deliver oxygen to your muscles. The veins return this increased flow back to the heart and lungs leading your superficial veins to become more visible. These “bulging” superficial veins are considered by many a desirable result of weightlifting.

Following a workout program can reduce your risk for venous disease and developing varicose veins and blood clots. But high-impact workouts like bodybuilding can put a strain on veins especially if you have an underlying vein problem putting you at risk for developing varicose veins and blood clots. The key today is understanding when you should be concerned and seek medical attention about unexplained leg pain or bulging veins.

Who is at risk for developing these conditions?

As a rule, it is a good idea to see a vein specialist if you have concerns about your venous leg health. In fact, you can have underlying or ‘hidden’ vein problems including blood clots in the legs without any visible changes.

bodybuilding veins bulgingVein Risk factors in Bodybuilders and Fitness Enthusiasts:
  1. Employment which requires you to sit or stand for very long periods of time
  2. Family history of varicose veins or blood clots
  3. Hormonal birth control
  4. Previous pregnancies
  5. Injury that kept you off your feet or immobile for a long period of time
  6. Recent prolonged illness or surgery recovery
  7. Medications & supplements known to increase blood clot risk or slow circulation
  8. Testosterone replacement therapy

This is not a complete list of risk factors; these are, however, frequent causes for concern among even the most disciplined in health and fitness.

So what can you do if you’re in one or more of these higher-risk categories? We’ll get to that in a moment. First, let’s look at symptoms of blood clots and venous disease.

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Symptoms of Venous Disease and Blood Clots to Watch Out For

Venous diseases are underdiagnosed and undertreated in the United States, so it’s no surprise most people ignore many of the symptoms below. In fact, you may read through this list and realize you’ve been writing off one or more warning signs. If you have these symptoms, seek an evaluation with a vein specialist.

Visible Veins

You see your “veins popping” and assume it’s healthy circulation. It may very well be a normal, natural response to your bodybuilding routine especially as you become leaner with less body fat. As you work your muscles, they require more oxygen than usual; your circulatory system responds by sending more oxygenated blood to your muscles, naturally, your visible veins dilated to accommodate the increased blood return.

So how do you tell the difference between healthy vascular veins and unhealthy varicose veins? If the visible veins are soft, non-tender, painless, and decompress with elevating your arms or legs higher than your heart they should not be an acute concern.

However, if your veins are swollen, painful, tender to touch, feel ‘hard’, and do not decompress when elevated you may have a blood clot and should seek immediate medical care.

If you have spider veins, varicose veins, or leg swelling and notice that your legs are heavy, achy, swollen, or painful at the end of the day you may have varicose veins and should see your vein specialists for a complete evaluation.

Leg Pain, Heaviness, and Swelling

Leg pain, heaviness, and swelling are symptoms that bodybuilders and fitness buffs often write off as part of a hard workout. But if you have spider veins, varicose veins, or leg swelling or just notice that your legs hurt or feel heavy at the end of a long day you may have underlying vein problems and should see your vein specialists for a complete evaluation.

Nighttime Leg Cramps

Leg cramps that wake you from a deep sleep can ruin your night. If you had a hard workout sometimes night cramps happen especially if you missed your fluid and electrolyte replacement needs. However, leg cramps can be a sign of underlying vein disease.

Restless Legs

If you have difficulty falling asleep because of your restless legs, this could be a sign of venous insufficiency. If you’ve changed your workout routine so that you aren’t exercising right before bed and you still have restless legs, it’s a good idea to seek a vein evaluation. It has been reported that 30% of patients that have both restless leg and vein disease noticed an improvement in their restless legs after vein treatments.

Preventing Venous Disease in Bodybuilders

You’ve taken control of your health and wellness by focusing on your fitness; now it’s time to address changes you can make in your daily routine to improve your vein health. We developed our Better Veins for Life® principles to help you. Follow these conservative care lifestyle changes to help prevent and treat venous disease.

  1. Wear Graduated Compression: When you’re sitting, standing, or immobile for long periods of time, graduated compression stockings, socks, and sleeves maintain healthy leg circulation. This takes the strain off of your vein walls and valves, reducing the likelihood of varicose veins and blood clots. In fact, it is a good idea to wear graduated compression when you are working out, too.
  2. Elevate Your Legs Daily: This helps reduce swelling and pooling, as gravity gives your veins a much-needed assist. Make sure your feet are above your heart for at least 15 minutes. It’s an easy health habit that almost anyone can do.
  3. Change Your Shoes: Ladies, we know you want to show off the calves you’ve worked so hard on. However, we recommend you reduce your use of high heels as they put added pressure on your veins. This can lead to visible spider veins and varicose veins. I recommend you ‘save the heels for special occasions.’
  4. Change Up Your Fitness Routine: If you have to reduce activity due to illness, injury, or surgery, talk to your doctor about safer exercises to make sure you keep moving and reduce the risk of varicose veins and blood clots. We may also recommend modified exercise routines if you have venous disease, as higher impact workouts like bodybuilding can put added strain on your veins. Discuss a higher rep lower weight lifting program with your trainer. If you have vein disease see your vein specialist for treatment recommendations.
  5. Seek a Vein Health Evaluation: If you fall into one or more risk factors and/or have symptoms of venous disease such as leg heaviness, unexplained leg pain, swelling, bulging veins, restless legs, or visible spider veins, it’s a good idea to see a vein specialist for a comprehensive evaluation. Venous disease can be hidden, and screening can help you catch problems before they become worse, receive treatment, and even remove unhealthy veins using minimally invasive techniques that don’t require general anesthesia or downtime.
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Book an Appointment at Vein Specialists of the South

At Vein Specialists of the South, we offer a personalized, comprehensive, team-based approach to vein care. We will work with you to establish lifestyle changes and recommend the right vein care program to address your concerns. Call today and schedule your vein evaluation at one of our three convenient locations in Macon, Warner Robins, and Locust Grove, Georgia, or get started with a virtual consultation.

Vein care isn’t just one thing we do; it’s all we do. Contact us to get started.

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