The main cause of heavy legs is generally poor circulation in the lower limbs. Even ancient medicine associated the presence of varicose veins with heavy legs. In fact, the Roman physician Galen, who lived in the second century AD, described in detail the symptoms of varicose veins, including the heaviness and swelling that can occur in the legs.
Ancient medical texts often prescribed rest, elevation and massage as treatments for heavy legs, along with various herbal remedies and dietary recommendations.
Circulation problems generally occur in the lower body, particularly in the legs, because the lower body has to fight against gravity to move blood upwards. As the veins lose their elasticity, circulation deteriorates and blood begins to stagnate in the legs.
Dioscorides, a Greek physician and pharmacologist, wrote about several herbs that were believed to relieve heavy legs and improve venous circulation in his work “De Materia Medica”. Some of these herbs include:
- Horse Chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum): Dioscorides wrote about the use of horse chestnut as a treatment for heavy legs and other vein-related conditions.
- Witch Hazel (Hamamelis virginiana): Witch hazel was commonly used by ancient Greeks and Romans as a treatment for varicose veins and other vein-related conditions.
- White oak bark (Quercus alba): White oak bark was used by Dioscorides to treat leg swelling and other vein-related conditions.
- Bladderwrack (Fucus vesiculosus): This seaweed was used by Dioscorides to treat leg swelling and improve circulation.
- Calendula (Calendula officinalis): Calendula was used by Dioscorides to treat wounds and improve blood circulation.
Traditional Indian Medicine, also known as Ayurveda, recommends several herbs to relieve heavy legs and improve venous circulation. Some of these herbs include:
- Guggulu (Commiphora mukul): Guggulu is a resin from the mukul myrrh tree that is used in Ayurveda to improve circulation and reduce swelling.
- Shankhapushpi (Convolvulus pluricaulis): Shankhapushpi is an herb commonly used in Ayurveda to treat various health conditions, including heavy legs.
- Triphala (Emblica officinalis, Terminalia belerica, Terminalia chebula): Triphala is a mixture of three fruits (amla, bibhitaki, and haritaki) that is used in Ayurveda to improve digestion and circulation.
- Shankhapushpi (Centella asiatica): Shankhapushpi is an herb commonly used in Ayurveda to improve circulation and reduce swelling.
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), on the other hand, recommends several herbs to relieve heavy legs and improve venous circulation. Some of these herbs include:
- Ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba): Ginkgo is used in TCM to improve circulation and relieve swelling.
- Dong Quai (Angelica sinensis): Dong Quai is a commonly used herb in TCM to improve circulation and relieve heavy legs.
- Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale): Dandelion is used in TCM to improve circulation and relieve swelling.
- Horse Chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum): Horse chestnut is used in TCM to improve circulation and relieve heavy legs.
Interestingly, Aesculus hippocastanum (horse chestnut) is included in both the Greco-Roman and traditional Chinese medicines of Dioscorides as a plant that promotes circulation and relieves heavy legs. Horse chestnut is still used in phytomedicine for the prevention and treatment of venous congestion in leg ulcers. Escin, the active component of horse chestnut, has been observed to have anti-inflammatory and vasodilator properties in inflamed tissues, thus inhibiting edema formation.
Today, several plants have been shown to have properties that promote venous circulation and improve the symptoms of heavy legs. In particular, Centella asiatica, already proposed by Ayurveda as a circulatory remedy, in combination with Vitis vinifera, has shown significant anti-inflammatory and anti-vascular leakage effects, thus constituting a new natural remedy for the treatment of venous insufficiency.
The combination of diosmin (a glycosyloxyflavone or rutinoside, that is found mainly in citrus fruits) and hesperidin (a flavanone glycoside that is found in citrus and other fruits) has been shown to be very effective in the treatment of chronic venous insufficiency and haemorrhoids.
Dioscorides recommends the use of a plant called butcher’s broom (Ruscus aculeatus) for treating “hemorrhoids, varicose veins, and swollen legs.” The plant contains compounds that can help to constrict blood vessels and improve blood flow, which may alleviate symptoms of these conditions, including the feeling of heaviness in the legs. Ruscus aculeatus has been shown in clinical trials to be a safe and effective treatment for patients with chronic venous insufficiency. In fact, treatment with Ruscus has been associated with a significant reduction in clinical symptoms and a significant improvement in quality of life in patients with chronic venous disease.
Vitis vinifera, the climbing vine that produces the grapes from which wine is made, has been linked to improved vascular function and relief from symptoms of heavy legs, probably due to its content of bioactive catechins and other antioxidants. Several studies have shown that treatment with red grape seed extract led to an improvement in symptoms in patients with vascular problems and in experimental models of impaired vascular function; in addition, grape seed extract may have hypotensive and heart rate lowering properties.