Vein disease of the leg is a spectrum of disorders that when not treated tend to progress from less to more severe. On one end of the spectrum is simple leg swelling; at the other end is a slow-to-heal and very debilitating stasis ulcer.
Veins are ordinarily designed to bring blood from the foot back to the trunk, up the leg and against gravity. Veins have a very elaborate mechanism of valves that help propel blood up the leg against gravity. In some people, this mechanism can be disrupted, leading to reversal of flow in these veins, which then results in congestion of blood lower down in the leg.
This condition is called venous reflux. This congestion leads to swelling at first, then varicose veins, and after a longer period of time, changes in the color and health of the skin around the ankles.
The poor health of the skin can lead to the development of a large, very painful, sore, usually just above the inside ankle, which is called a venous stasis ulcer. These ulcers can take years to heal and sometimes they do not heal at all. Reversal of the reflux and use of a compression stocking are the only treatments which have been shown to be effective in treating stasis ulcers.