Heaviness in the lower limbs, swollen ankles, tingling or restless legs: all these symptoms generally indicate poor circulation, or more specifically chronic venous insufficiency. This means that superficial veins in the legs just under the skin are struggling to transport blood from the legs back up to the heart.
So what’s actually going on? Our veins are equipped with valve-like structures, which close to prevent the backward flow of blood into the veins. If these valves become too distended, they lose their ability to be ‘leak-proof’, causing blood to pool in the legs and ankles, and producing an unpleasant heavy sensation.
Prolonged standing or sitting, hormone fluctuations, heredity, smoking, wearing tight clothing and heat are the main factors that predispose to heavy legs (1). The good news is there are a number of steps you can take to reduce this uncomfortable sensation.
The best way to get your circulation moving again is to massage your legs at the end of the day (2). Use gentle movements moving from the ankles up towards the calves.
Try to add in this extra little step: lie down on the floor placing your legs vertically against a wall. Hold this position for at least 5 minutes, while taking deep, slow breaths.
Avoid these measures, however, if you suffer from phlebitis, painful varicose veins or wounds. The same applies if your legs are abnormally warm and swollen, in which case you should consult your doctor.
A sedentary lifestyle is to be avoided in the case of heavy legs. Moving regularly engages the calf muscles, which have a natural restraining effect on vein walls (3).
But this doesn’t mean traumatising your legs with high impact activities: avoid jogging, tennis and skipping, all of which weaken the valves in veins. Instead, focus on walking, cycling or aqua-biking – an excellent choice given the ‘draining’ effect of water!
Though they look very similar, horse chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum) should not be confused with common chestnut .
Encased in a prickly burr, the fruit of the horse chestnut is good for vein heath, and by extension, preventing heavy legs, due to its high content in aescin (4).
So try to choose a horse chestnut supplement with a sufficiently high level of this molecule (such as the venotonic Horse Chestnut, standardised to 20% aescin compared with 3%-6% in standard supplements).
Not a fan of the ‘Scottish shower’? Well there’s no need to plunge your entire body into freezing cold water. Through a clever play of contraction and dilation, showering your legs with alternating hot and cold water is enough to invigorate the network of veins and reactivate the circulation (5).
To fully benefit from this, finish your shower with a jet of cold water moving from the bottom of the legs to the top. Be brave!
Adorning our fields and embankments, sweet clover (Melilotus officinalis) is also good for the legs as it plays a role in vein and blood vessel health (6-7). Harvested in summer, the plant’s flowering tops, gathered in yellow clusters, owe their impressive properties to the flavonoids and coumarin derivatives they contain.
That’s why some people choose to take a sweet clover supplement (such as the natural product Lymphatonic standardised to 18% coumarins) to restore some lightness.
It’s hard to prevent swollen legs in summer given that in hot weather, veins tend to dilate excessively and are less effective at transporting blood higher up the body.
Does that mean no more sunbathing at the beach? Don’t worry. Just try to spend some time in the shade so as not to expose your legs to the sun for prolonged periods. And avoid steam baths, saunas and hot waxing treatments as they will only exacerbate the problem.
First mentioned in the writings of explorer Jacques Cartier, maritime pine bark, taken as a simple infusion, is thought to have helped his entire crew recover their strength and vitality. However, it was only in the 1950s, some 400 years later, that the mystery of this tree was conclusively revealed.
Its secret? An extraordinary molecule contained in the bark, which had never before been isolated, and which today remains of huge interest to the scientific community: pycnogenol (8-9).
So maritime pine bark is up there with the best when it comes to our lower limbs. With a role in vascular health, it naturally helps to maintain the comfort of our legs. It’s therefore well worth supplementing with this plant extract of choice (for example, with the product Pycnogenol , a powerful, patented extract made from French Landes pine trees).
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Heavy legs, varicose or dilated veins... phytotherapy and good plant combinations are an effective solution to the problem of venous insufficiency.