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Driving with Varicose Veins - Should I Be Worried?


During the summer months, many of us take long road trips. Whether it's a trip to the beach or a trip to visit relatives you may find yourself spending a few hours sitting in a vehicle. 

It's generally accepted that sitting in a stationary position for an extended period is not great for vein health. Whenever you're sitting for a long time your calf muscles are not contracting/squeezing, and blood has a tendency to “pool” in the lower leg. This pooling of blood can result in swelling of the calf and ankles, which can increase the risk of blood clot formation. 

These considerations are especially important for people who have a history of a venous blood clot (deep vein thrombosis - DVT), strong family history of blood clots, known vein problems, or obesity.

Fortunately, some easy things can be done to reduce leg symptoms and minimize the risk of a blood clot. None of these things are rocket science, but when it comes to reducing the risk of blood clots any little thing that you can easily do to reduce the chances of getting a clot makes sense.

One thing you can do to reduce your chances of developing a venous blood clot (deep vein thrombosis - DVT) around the time of a long road trip is simply stopping the vehicle and walking around a short distance. No one knows for sure the ideal frequency of these stops but I recommend a brief walk around your vehicle every 60 minutes or so.

Another strategy that is recommended by some is flexing and extending the ankle joint. When you push the foot down the muscles on the back of your calf the gastrocnemius muscle and soleus calf muscles contract, and this shunts venous blood out of the leg. If you are sitting in the driver's seat you have to be careful not to hit the gas! 

Walking is much more effective than simply extending the foot, but in situations where you're unable to get up and walk around this may be the best alternative.

Compression stockings have been recommended to reduce leg and ankle swelling that can occur on long road trips. Although there is limited data to support the reduced risk of a venous blood clot with compression hose, there's not much downside to trying this strategy. If you’ve had issues with leg or ankle swelling after road trips in the past you may want to consider trying a pair. Compression stockings come in different strengths and different lengths. The most common styles of compression hose extend from the toes to just below the knee, but some prefer the thigh-high style. Over-the-counter hose typically are 15-20mmHg strength, which means that 15-20mmHg pressure is circumferentially applied to the skin just above the ankle. Medical strength compression hose start at 20-30mmHg strength. If you are brave there are 30-40mmHg and if you're a real Ninja Warrior you can even try a 50-60mmHg pair!

When should you see a vein doctor?

If you experience leg pain or leg swelling that persists after a road-trip, it’s prudent to seek immediate evaluation at a medical facility that has access to venous ultrasound. Blood clots are fairly common, easy to diagnose (with ultrasound), and respond best to treatment when caught early.

When blood clots develop in the leg veins this can potentially be a potentially serious problem. Unfortunately, the location, size, and significance of a blood clot cannot be determined by symptoms or the appearance of your leg. 

If your leg is painful or swollen an ultrasound test can define the location and size of the clot. If a blood clot is identified within a “superficial vein” this is not typically a serious or life-threatening condition. Superficial vein blood clots are also known as superficial phlebitis and are generally not life or limb-threatening. However, if a blood clot is located within a “deep” vein, this is known as deep vein thrombosis and can be potentially serious. 

Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) is more sinister than superficial vein blood clots because deep vein blood clots can fragment, dislodge and travel in the bloodstream to your heart and lungs, a condition known as a pulmonary embolism. Most patients who experience a pulmonary embolism will experience chest pain and/or shortness of breath. Although symptoms of pulmonary embolism can vary, they can mimic those of a heart attack. It’s very important to get emergency help if you believe you’re suffering from a pulmonary embolism, as this could result in permanent injury or even be fatal.

4 simple steps to avoid vein problems when traveling

Using any or all of these methods could reduce the chances of complications due to driving for extended periods. It wouldn’t hurt to practice these regularly outside of road travel, too.

It’s widely accepted to wait a few weeks after any type of vein procedure to travel by plane, though short distance flights may be resumed within a week or so.

Does insurance pay for vein treatment?

If you think you might have a vein problem one good thing is that most insurance plans will cover the cost of venous ultrasound and vein treatments. To curtail costs some insurance companies have introduced restrictions on coverage, but the best insurance companies (eg. Medcost) continue to provide excellent value to their members by adequately covering vein care. If you have questions about coverage you should be able to find out more information by reviewing the "Varicose Veins" policy on your insurance companies website or calling your insurance company. Another easy way to find out about coverage is to call our team at Vascular Solutions. We'll give you the ins-and-outs of your plan.

If you have varicose veins, leg symptoms, or want to discuss vein health or treatment options your best bet is to call Dr. Ford and his team at Vascular Solutions, the best vein clinic in Charlotte, NC. His team is fully equipped to accurately diagnose and treat any vein problem including varicose veins, venous reflux disease, and deep vein thrombosis. They offer minimally-invasive treatment options and treat a wide variety of vein conditions in both men and women.


Contact Dr. Ford the best vein specialist in Charlotte, NC today. He and his team of friendly, knowledgeable staff are ready to help.

Safe travels!




Peter Ford MD FACS RPVI Peter Ford, MD, FACS, RPVI, is a board certified vascular surgeon who works at Vascular Solutions in Charlotte, North Carolina. Dr. Ford specializes in the management of varicose veins and venous disease.

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