Leg pain may come from a variety of sources. Some pain—particularly muscular or joint pain-- can be attributed to overuse. Frequently, back problems of spinal alignment cause pain in the legs. Occasionally, pain may emanate from the vascular system--blood clots, varicose veins or poor circulation.
In Part I of this topic, we discuss how leg pain may be caused by circulation issues and some of its leading causes. Part II will discuss various treatment options that are available for these symptoms.
When the muscles in the leg do not receive enough blood supply to provide adequate oxygen to the muscle cells, leg pain is the result. When it occurs with walking it is called claudication, which is defined as leg pain and/or cramping in the lower extremities that occurs with walking and/or exercise.
Pain from claudication can be sharp or dull, aching or throbbing, or burning. It occurs most often with simple walking and is almost always relieved with a short period of rest. This can be indicative of Peripheral Artery Disease (PAD) and is frequently referred to as “intermittent” claudication as the pain comes and goes with exertion and rest.
Most Common Cause of Claudication
The most common cause of claudication is PAD which is a narrowing or blockage of the arteries in the lower extremities. The narrowed or blocked arteries are due to atherosclerosis, or buildup of plaque, within the arteries. This reduces the amount of blood flow – and therefore oxygen supply – to muscles in the buttocks, hips, thighs, calves, and feet.
Calf pain is the most common location for PAD-associated claudication. However, depending on the location and severity of atherosclerotic plaque, symptoms can be felt anywhere from the buttocks to the feet.
Claudication Risk Factors
Risk factors for developing PAD and subsequent claudication include:
- Tobacco use
- High cholesterol
- High blood pressure
- Age greater than 60
- Family history of atherosclerosis
Though intermittent claudication is not considered an emergency, it is important to be diagnosed as claudication can be a sign of other problems such as heart disease. Diagnosing PAD and claudication begins with a thorough history and physical examination, something our vascular doctors at The Cardiovascular Care Group do as part of the initial consultation.
Testing can be performed in our office, where blood flow can be assessed both anatomically and physiologically within our advanced noninvasive vascular laboratory. Further testing can be considered for more advanced stages of PAD.
Stay tuned to Part II of this blog post, where we will discuss various treatment options for claudication. As leg pain can be due to many different reasons, undergoing an appropriate vascular evaluation is essential to ensure the most accurate diagnosis and subsequent management.