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How our Veins & Valves Work

Most of our blood volume is carried in the veins (64%). Veins can expand to hold large amounts of blood. Veins are blood vessels that carry blood from the body back to the heart. Blood return from the legs occurs mainly through the deep veins. Within the veins, especially those of the legs are valves. Venous valves are bicuspid (two) flap like structures made of elastic tissue. The valves function to keep blood moving in one direction.

The flow of blood in the venous system is complex for several reasons: the low pressure within the veins, flow rates that vary from high (during muscle contraction) to almost no flow during quiet standing or sitting positions, the effects of gravity, the collapsible nature of the venous wall, the presence of valves, and the large volume of blood carried in the veins.

Once the blood has passed from the arteries through the capillaries, it is flowing at a slower rate because little pressure remains to move the blood along. Blood flow in the veins below the heart is helped back up to the heart by the muscle pump. The walls of the veins are thin and somewhat floppy. To compensate for this many veins are located in the muscles. Movement of the leg squeezes the veins, which pushes the blood toward the heart. When the muscles contract the blood within the veins is squeezed up the vein and the valves open. When the muscle is at rest, the valves close helping to prevent the backward flow of blood. This is referred to as the muscle pump.