Non-return valves in the legs
Veins have crescent-shaped valves at intervals that divide vessels into segments. These valves open as soon as the blood is pressed upwards towards the center of the body against gravity and close in the instant that the blood comes to a “standstill” and would start to flow backwards.
Defective venous valves
Intact valves prevent the blood from pooling in the periphery (particularly when standing) and absorb the forces that act on the veins under stress (walking, jogging and jumping). The communicating veins also possess valves that prevent return flow from the deep to the superficial venous system.
If the functionality of the valves is impaired, or has even been destroyed, by injury or after inflammation, the work performed by the leg muscles sometimes presses the blood towards the heart in the subcutaneous veins instead of in the deep veins. This results in overstrain of the superficial venous system. The symptoms of this are stasis and edema; in the long-term, this can develop into chronic venous insufficiency (CVI).
Once damaged, venous valves remain defective. However, valves that have only lost their function can regain their functionality, at least in part, with consistent compression treatment.
Calf muscle pump - The venous valves determine the direction
Every time the muscles contract, they squeeze the deep veins in the legs together and transport the blood further. Here too, the venous valves determine the direction of flow and stop the blood flowing backwards.
- The muscle pump only springs into action when we use our muscles, i.e. while walking or running
- Long periods of standing or sitting still can lead to blood pooling in the legs.
- Water from the blood leaks through vessel walls into the surrounding tissues and leads to swollen legs and feet.
- Whenever the muscles of the feet and legs are working, the muscle pump works too and jump-starts venous return.
Hiking, climbing stairs, cycling or swimming help keep the muscle pump fit and ensure good circulation in the legs.