Leg Pain (Claudication)

Leg artery disease (peripheral arterial disease or PAD) can cause discomfort or pain in your legs when you walk, and which goes away when you rest. This is called intermittent claudication, and it’s caused by too little blood flow due to narrowing of the arteries of your legs.

If you suffer from intermittent claudication, it’s important to know that the doctors in the Division of Vascular and Endovascular Surgery at Cooper Health Care have extensive experience in diagnosing and treating this condition—helping you maintain an active lifestyle without leg pain.

Why Choose Cooper to Treat Intermittent Claudication?

Our vascular specialists are nationally recognized for their expertise in treating intermittent claudication, often without surgery.

In fact, the mainstay of effective treatment for this condition is a conservative program of lifestyle changes, like quitting smoking and losing weight, and a walking program tailored to your individual needs.

A walking program helps your body improve the blood flow and decrease the pain you feel in your legs when exercising. Notably, when carefully followed, walking programs have been shown to double or quadruple the distances you can walk without pain.

Walking programs generally follow these guidelines:

  • Walk three or more times per week
  • Increase the amount of time that you can walk without producing the pain in your legs by gradually walking for longer and longer periods without stopping
  • Maintain the walking program for at least three to six months to maximize its benefits

Claudication Causes and Risk Factors

Intermittent claudication is usually a symptom of peripheral arterial disease . With this condition, the arteries that supply blood to your legs are narrowed or damaged, usually from atherosclerosis, a buildup of fatty material (plaque) that makes the arteries harder (which is why this condition is often called hardening of the arteries).

When less blood flows through your leg arteries, your leg muscles don’t get enough of the oxygenated blood they need to contract, causing pain.

There are other possible causes of claudication that your doctor must consider as part of your evaluation. These include spinal stenosis, peripheral neuropathy, deep vein thrombosis, or arthritis.

Your are at higher risk for intermittent claudication if you:

  • Smoke
  • Have high cholesterol
  • Have high blood pressure
  • Are obese
  • Have diabetes
  • Are over age 70
  • Are over age 50 and also smoke or have diabetes
  • Have a family history of atherosclerosis, peripheral artery disease or claudication

Claudication Symptoms

The pain of claudication most often occurs in the calf, but it also can occur in your hips, buttocks, thighs, knees, shins, or upper feet. While rare, it also can occur in your arms. In addition:

  • You may not always feel pain; instead you may feel a tightness, heaviness, cramping, or weakness in your legs
  • Claudication often occurs more quickly if you walk uphill or up a flight of stairs, or faster than usual
  • Over time, if your PAD worsens, you may begin to feel claudication when you walk increasingly shorter distances
  • While claudication is usually relieved with rest, as peripheral artery disease progresses, you may start to feel leg pain even when you are sitting or lying down
  • If blood flow to your legs is drastically reduced, your toes may look bluish or feel cold. Skin ulcers (sores) may also develop.

Left untreated, claudication can affect your quality of life, limiting your ability to take part in social activities, to exercise, or even work. It can also lead to potentially life-threatening complications. So it’s important to tell your doctor if you have pain in your legs (or arms) when you exercise.

Contact Us

To learn more about the services available in the Division of Vascular and Endovascular Surgery or to schedule an appointment, please call 856.342.2151.

Refer a Patient

If you are a doctor who wants to refer a patient to the Division of Vascular and Endovascular Surgery, please call 856.968.7067.