This condition, typically characterized by swelling of the feet and legs, which gets worse with prolonged standing or sitting, becomes common as we age. It is caused by malfunctioning valves in the veins, which allow seepage of fluid toward the feet and ankles.
Varicose veins, a form of venous insufficiency, affect 1 in 10 people, mostly women, between the ages of 30-60. Leg swelling is often associated with varicose veins and can cause pain and disfigurement.
Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) is most common in those over the age of 60, but can occur at any age. It typically occurs after surgery or a prolong period of bed rest. Over time, 50-80% of individuals who have a DVT, develop swelling.
Venous insufficiency is often characterized by:
Swelling in the lower legs and ankles, especially after extended periods of standing or sitting
Aching or tiredness in the legs
Leathery-looking skin on the legs
Flaking or itching skin on the legs or feet
Stasis ulcers (or venous stasis ulcers)
Often, individuals with venous insufficiency will describe swelling that gets progressively worse throughout the day but resolves to some degree when the legs are elevated.
Untreated venous insufficiency can result in an increase in pressure and swelling of very small blood vessels in the legs, causing them to burst. The overlying skin often turns a reddish-brown color and is very sensitive to being broken if bumped or scratched.
Long term swelling can lead to open sores (ulcers) on the skin surface. Those venous stasis ulcers can be difficult to heal and can become infected. When the infection is not controlled, it can spread to surrounding tissue, a condition known as cellulitis.
What to expect from therapy
A comprehensive treatment program has many facets. Successful treatment requires utilization of those techniques that are most appropriate for the individual patient. Treatment provided by a skilled physical or occupational therapist, with specialized training in swelling management, will provide the best chance for a satisfactory outcome.
At HealthReach, our therapists utilize a variety of treatment interventions. Those can include:
Manual Lymphatic Drainage — a gentle massage which facilitates fluid movement from tissue into the circulatory system
Medical Compression Bandaging — uses low stretch bandages to facilitate lymph flow and prevent refulling of the limb between treatment sessions
Sequential Pumping — a vasopneumatic pump which 'milks' flluid out of a limb can be a useful tool with some individuals
Therapeutic Exercise — our muscles are our very best pump of fluid! Lymphatic fluid can be effectively drained when exercise is combined with compression bandaging.
Patient Education — the goal of therapy is to have each patient learn skills that allow him/her to manage swelling independently. This includes providing information regarding skin care, infection prevention, self massage and exercise Your therapist will work with you to determine what type of compression garment will be most effective in preventing the recurrence of swelling in the future.