Veins Are Like Trees, And Other Analogies

Date Published: March 14th, 2018
Blog Category: Veins
Rick Pittman, MD

When we begin treatment for your varicose veins, we start with treatment of the main cause of the leak—either the great saphenous vein or the small saphenous vein. Think of these veins as the trunk of a tree. The branches are the large, visible veins that we see on the leg, and even though they may be what prompted you to seek care, they will be treated after the trunks have been treated.

These down-to-earth analogies can help make sense of the vascular system and its proper function.

Leaky Roof

The varicose veins that you see on your leg(s) are like a wall in your house that is damaged by a leaky roof. The leaky roof in your leg is located in the groin or the back of the leg. The leak(s) have to be treated first, before the wall is repaired.

I-5 vs. Frontage Road

Many people ask what happens to the blood when we take the incompetent veins out of the circulation. Consider this; we have the frontage road and I-5 going to Portland. Sure you can reach Portland by way of the frontage road, but it is faster and more efficient to use I-5. We have two systems of veins in our legs. The superficial venous system, is what we are “removing” and we have the deep venous system, which is like I-5. The deep venous system is left untouched, so if anything, the circulation in your leg is more efficient, after treatment.

Stairs v. Slick Ramp

Blood travels from our legs back to the heart by three methods.

  1. Gravity—we elevate our legs above the heart, and gravity allows the blood to flow.
  2. Walking-by the action of the calf muscle (the pump), blood is “squeezed” and propelled upwards.
  3. Pressure on the bottom of the feet—we have a “pool” of blood located in the bottom of the feet.

When we apply pressure to the bottom of the foot, blood is, again, “squeezed” out of the foot. In the “leaky roof” and “I-5” analogies, the only way that blood can actually travel upwards, against gravity, is by virtue of the one-way valves that exist in normal veins. People with venous insufficiency have lost the function of these one-way valves; the blood is prevented from returning to the heart, and the blood pools in the legs. This pooling is responsible for ankle swelling, feelings of fatigue, heaviness and aching. Left untreated, ulcers can develop.

Vein treatments are performed at our Salem location by Rick Pittman, MD, board certified in venous and lymphatic medicine. For more information or to schedule a consultation, call 503-362-8385.