Along with the joys of pregnancy come some unwanted physical consequences, one of which may be the development of varicose veins. While this condition may not have a significant impact on some expectant moms, others may experience increasing discomfort as the pregnancy progresses. But pregnancy massage, done judiciously, can help relieve the situation.

Know the Basics

Varicose veins, which are swollen, enlarged and usually blue and knotted in appearance, sometimes occur toward the end of the second trimester. The production of progesterone during pregnancy causes the walls of the veins to relax, allowing extra blood to pool and stretch the vein wall; gravity and the growing fetus put added pressure on the veins in the pelvis and on large blood vessels. Varicose veins may develop in the legs, particularly behind the knees, in the derriere as piles or hemorrhoids and around the opening of the vagina.

Learn the Technique

In addition to eating a healthy diet, drinking plenty of water and exercising regularly, some massage modalities might improve varicose veins and their symptoms. A 2007 study published in the Cochrane Database Systematic Reviews indicated that a trial of hand and foot reflexology on 55 women significantly reduced edema associated with varicose veins, increasing circulation throughout the body. Reflexology addresses the adrenal and parathyroid glands, the digestive system—especially the liver, spine, heart and sciatic nerve.

Kate Jordan, developer and teacher of the Bodywork for the Childbearing Year® certification training, suggested lymphatic drainage and circulatory massage to reduce discomfort and pain related to varicose veins. The former technique involves superficial strokes that relieve pooling and congestion and move lymph fluid into the blood vessels and eventually into general circulation. You should use very light strokes directed upward to the heart and focused on the subdermal areas and superficial fascia.

Circulatory massage uses short, three-inch long effleurage strokes that help transfer blood from one valve in the vein to another. Longer strokes increase blood flow throughout the length of the vein.

According to Jordan, the most effective strokes comprise gentle, full-palm pressure or flat fingertip pressure over the varicose vein. Some strokes to avoid include digital pressure, cross-fiber friction, stripping, wringing and percussion. For maximum effectiveness, you should elevate your client’s legs 45 degrees or you could massage the upper leg while she lies on her side. To achieve optimal glide and comfort for your client, lubrication is a must. Jordan prefers oils rather than a cream or lotion.

For clients with broken skin, ulcerations or phlebitis over the varicose vein, massage of any type is not recommended.

Teach the Client

If your client finds relief during massage sessions, she may want to continue the practice at home. Be sure to offer your expert advice to avoid any complications. Instruct your client to sit comfortably with her legs raised slightly on a pillow or cushion. Taking care to avoid direct contact with the varicose veins, she should work the entire leg gently from the ankle to the upper thigh. Done daily for five minutes on each leg, massage will offer symptom relief in between her professional massage sessions.

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