Our grandma in her village, our neighbour in the fifth floor and a thorough research surfing the web they share something in common: if we ask them about their best home remedy for varicose veins they will end up probably pointing at seawater. But seawater can be used in very different ways (collective knowledge can be sometimes VERY imaginative), and the most common among all of them, as expected, is to recommend bathing, leg immersion in seawater or walking by the seashore as the ultimate treatment for varicose veins.
Although the sea exerts an undoubted attraction on our subconscious, and, of course, it also brings us many other benefits (from food to relax and peace of mind just by standing near it, or hearing the sound of its waves), because of this same reason it has been the centre of many myths since ancient times. And, as it wouldn’t be possible otherwise, many of these myths are related to the medical field. Among all of them, this is one of the most popular ones.
Seawater is rich in salt and minerals, but popular traditions typically ascribe it magical healing properties. It is true that it can be beneficial for some skin conditions, but this is not related to varicose veins or spider veins. Good myth as it is, it stands on a distant real base, but the form we usually find it again and again as the perfect recommendation for varicose veins is wrong (or false, as you prefer).
Varicose veins are diseased veins that became unable to do their job properly, which is to return blood flow upwards, from the feet towards the heart. This problem has appeared because of the failure in the appropriate closure of the valves that are inside the veins (their mission was exactly that one, to get the blood flowing only upwards). The consequence of this is that blood flow, same as it goes up, it also moves downwards through the same vein, so the return flow is slower than it should. This increases the pressure inside the vein and, since the vein wall is quite thin, it is not able to bear this pressure, it finally dilates bulging out the skin: those “lumps” are the varicose veins.
On the other hand we have the telangiectasia or spider veins, that are very small veins, hair-thin, sometimes reddish or slightly wider and of blueish-green colour. These small capillaries are usually not related to varicose veins, and they NEVER cause any symptom. However, the true varicose veins, because of their slow blood flow and the increased pressure inside of them, they MAY be responsible of pain, tired or heavy legs, itching or ankle swelling (edema).
Once this has been clarified, we can find an explanation for even four different origins of this ‘urban legend’:
- Some people actually believe that the movement of sea waves against the legs act as a massage to help the venous blood flow. This effect, if it really takes place at all, it’s so tiny that we can consider it non-existing.
- To keep the legs immersed in water (no matter if seawater or freshwater, it doesn’t make a difference) means that water exerts a minimal pressure against the skin. Or, said in a different way, it acts as a soft compression stocking. Obviously, it is not enough compression to be an effective treatment with an efficacy similar to medical graded compression stockings, but it is better than nothing, and thus the person who is suffering symptoms from varicose veins might find some minimal relief.
- Usually, those who walk by the seashore they do it in summer. Summer is the worst season of the year for persons who suffer from varicose veins, as we know very well that warm temperatures worsen their symptoms. To submerge the legs in seawater, which is usually cooler than air under these summer conditions, causes them to cool them down and somehow counteracts this harmful effect, providing an improvement in the symptoms. But we could get this same result or better with a cool shower on the legs, or by submerging them on a bucket full of cool freshwater.
- Of course, if a person walks in seawater, he/she is exercising, so this contributes to improve the returning venous blood flow. But we could get this same effect by swimming in the pool, or playing tennis.
Spider veins, on the other hand, do not benefit from seawater at all: as they never cause any symptom, there are no symptoms to improve. Against another very widespread popular belief, they do not mean anything like ‘bad circulation’ (a very frequently used expression which means nothing, because ‘bad circulation’, in fact, does not exist at all).
You could not imagine the huge amount of myths and false beliefs that are surrounding the varicose veins, and what’s is the amazing truth about them! You can find them explained in a very friendly and amusing way in VARICOSE VEINS: Truth & myths.
In summary, seawater is not able to heal the varicose veins at all, not even to reduce them a little bit. This is only a false myth, very widespread. With regards to varicose veins, the sea has nothing magical. Its magic belongs to a very different type: it keeps reminding us the best moments in our childhood; it relaxes our body and mind; the sea may awake our hidden talents for poetry or songs, or, ultimately, it is able to make us dream.