This is the second in a series on strategies to help raise a vein. Last time I talked about the importance of keeping warm when trying to find a vein, this time I’d like to talk about exercise and diet. In my opinion not enough needle programme (NSP) workers or injectors even consider diet issues something to talk about.
Exercise is a great was to increase the size of a vein in the short term, when you exercise the body’s nervous system and brain send out messages that will cause all the veins in a body to contract (vasoconstriction). But the process of exercising also makes the muscles release chemicals that prevent this happening there. The result is that during and just after exercising veins in or near muscle carry more blood and so will be bigger (vasodilatation). Working out in some way will also increase your heart rate getting blood pumping better around your body.
But keeping fit can also help keep veins more visible, as your muscle density increases surface veins are pushed up more towards the surface. But how can someone on very limited resources afford to keep fit and exercise? Here are some tips:
- Walking/running: This has got to be the cheapest option, going for a walk before you’re due to inject can get your blood pumping more.
- Sit-ups/push-ups: Are also good free ways to exercise, with push-ups you also get the added bonus of greater muscle density on your arms. With both of these though its important to start small to avoid injury. Try doing push-ups from a kneeling position, or even by putting your hands on the wall and leaning in (in classic ‘assume the position’ style).
- Makeshift equipment: There are plenty of household items that can use used, plastic soda bottles make good weights and so do books. Have a look around and see what you can use.
Recently someone asked me about the issue of liability when suggesting to people they exercise because they had been told not to recommend it in case someone injures themselves. Personally I think we should trust in peoples own ability to look after themselves.
What about diet?
When I was thinking of writing this article it was just going to be on exercise, but something made me wonder about the effect diet can have, here’s what I’ve found so far:
- Caffeine: Foods and drinks that contain caffeine also normally contain theobromine and theophylline (found in cocoa beans and tea), they act as a stimulant for the heart and widen your blood vessels.
- Bioflavonoids: Long word that one isn’t it. These are found in berries (mainly red and blue ones), soybeans, and in the white part of citrus fruits (don’t peel your oranges too carefully. Bioflavonoids work with vitamin C and can help strengthen the walls of veins, reduce bruising and prevent haemorrhaging. (More reading on bioflavonoids: link one, link two.)
- Hot foods: This one could have been included in with the ‘keep warm’ article, having hot food or drinks raises your body temperature, your body then tries to cool itself down by sending blood away from your torso to your arms and legs.
- Water: Keeping hydrated is always important, remembering to drink can greatly improve both the way you feel and the ease with which you find a vein.
Of course, having a good diet and keeping fit is important for everyone for long term health, this is something that I think should be talked about more with injectors.
Nigel Brunsdon is the owner of Injecting Advice.com. He's been working in harm reduction since the 1990's, although he's previously a frontline needle programme worker he now spends most of his time developing online resources for drugs workers and users.