INTERMITTENT CLAUDICATION -
WHEN IT HURTS TO WALK
Many of us have been told that pain is a normal consequence of aging, and we just need to live with it. However, that's not necessarily the case, if you have cramping and pain in the calf, thigh, or buttock which regularly comes on after walking a certain distance, and goes away with rest. You may have a condition called Intermittent Claudication. This condition is usually felt in one or both legs. The pain has three main characteristics:
1. It is always experienced in the muscles that are used for walking: the
calf, thigh, or buttock.
2. It appears after walking the same distance every time.
3. It disappears within five minutes of resting.
Intermittent claudication can result in a significant loss of independence by severely limiting one's ability to walk. In one to two percent of cases each year, amputation of the leg is necessary. Individuals with this condition are also at risk for stroke and heart attack because arteries that supply the brain and the heart may be clogged. If you have the symptoms of intermittent claudication, report them to your physician. Treatment is available and necessary.
What causes Intermittent Claudication?
The pain of intermittent claudication is due to insufficient blood flow to working muscles. The circulation is unable to keep up with the muscle demands of increased activity. The blood flow is decreased because of atherosclerosis, a build-up of fatty material on the inner walls of the arteries, which causes them to thicken and lose elasticity. The arteries become narrow. Required nutrients cannot get to the muscle rapidly enough and waste products accumulate in the muscle.
How is Intermittent Claudication treated?
Without treatment, Intermittent Claudication will persist or worsen. Your physician will treat any underlying causes of your atherosclerosis, such as diabetes or high blood pressure, and will ask you to stop smoking if you smoke. Medication to help dilate the narrowed blood vessels may also be prescribed. Additionally, an exercise regimen is a very important part of the treatment plan for intermittent claudication. According to a review of medical literature by the American Heart Association, "exercise therapy is the most consistently effective medical treatment for [intermittent claudication]."
Should you stop walking?
No. Don't stop walking! Walking improves circulation to the muscles by stimulating the formation of new blood vessels within the exercising muscle. Exercise is also effective for weight and cholesterol level management. Research studies show that people with intermittent claudication should walk for at least thirty minutes a day, if possible. When pain is felt, you should stop until it subsides, then walk again. By following this pattern, you may be able to increase your walking distance, as your muscle circulation improves.
Exercise increases the size of blood vessels that supply the muscles. Studies have also shown that people with intermittent claudication increased their pain-free walking distance or their walking tolerance time with participation in a standardized exercise program.
Regular exercise is the closest thing we have to the fountain of youth, and it's never too late to derive benefit from an appropriately designed program. A multitude of medical conditions are dramatically improved with exercise, including intermittent claudication.
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