Why You Experience Weakness in the Legs While Climbing Stairs

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Why You Experience Weakness in the Legs While Climbing Stairs

Climbing stairs and peripheral artery disease blog article

The feeling of weakness in the legs isn’t unusual when you’ve been exercising, have spent all day on your feet, or are feeling under the weather. However, if you’ve recently noticed this feeling of weakness while climbing stairs or walking around your neighborhood, then it could indicate one of several underlying conditions. Leg numbness, weakness, coldness in your lower legs, feet can be a symptom of PAD Disease. It’s important to recognize some of the tell-tale signs of PAD, so you can improve your overall vascular health.

If you think you may have PAD, schedule a consultation with one of the board-certified vascular doctors at USA Vascular Centers. Our doctors are experts in diagnosing PAD, and they will be able to help you figure out the cause of your leg pain. 

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Common Symptoms of Muscle Weakness in Legs

There are several types of leg weakness, and it helps to know which symptoms can signify that something more serious might be going on. First, there is a difference between experiencing a fatigued sensation in your lower extremities, as though your legs are tired, and losing muscle function. 

If you experience sudden weakness in the legs that makes you unable to move, seek emergency assistance right away. This is especially true if you fall, injure yourself, and then experience an inability to move your legs. 

Sudden weakness in the legs, especially on one side of the body, can signify a stroke. If you suddenly lose the ability to move one or both legs (paralysis), call an ambulance right away. Stroke symptoms can also include blurred vision, severe headache, high fever, sudden bowel incontinence, and loss of muscle control in the face. 

For general tiredness, weakness, or pain in the legs, pay attention to any additional symptoms. Do your legs feel tingly and numb, too? Are they warm to the touch, flushed, and swollen? Are you having muscle spasms where your leg twitches for no apparent reason? Are you experiencing a burning or prickling sensation? 

Take note of symptoms in other areas of your body, too. Back pain, unsteady walking, general achiness or fatigue, and pain in the arms, hands, or fingers are signs that something is off. Along with weakness in the legs, these can all be symptoms of different conditions, including PAD. One of our highly skilled vascular doctors can treat any potential PAD issues.   

What Causes Chronic Weakness in the Legs?

Now that you know more about what symptoms to watch for, you’re probably wondering what causes weakness in the legs. The answer is multifaceted. In some of the more serious cases, stroke or injury causes numbness and weakness in the legs. However, there are many additional conditions that can cause the muscles in your extremities to feel fatigued. 

Sciatica, for example, is a condition in which something is pinching the sciatic nerve, which runs from the lower back down through the calves. Many patients suffer from sciatica due to a herniated disc, narrowing of the spine (spinal stenosis), or a bone spur. With time, sciatica typically resolves independently, although treatment can also help. 

There are several serious neuromuscular conditions that can cause numbness and weakness in the legs. Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis,1 which you may know by its common name, Lou Gehrig’s disease, causes muscle weakness in the legs, muscle spasms, twitching, slurred speech, and cognitive changes. Multiple sclerosis can cause leg weakness, slurred speech, and vision issues. Other neuromuscular conditions to ask your doctor about include Guillain-Barre syndrome, fibromyalgia, cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy, and polymyositis, all of which can cause numbness and weakness in the legs. 

If you experience pain and weakness in the legs while walking, but notice that it disappears afterward, you may be experiencing intermittent claudication. Intermittent claudication is a major symptom of peripheral artery disease (PAD).

What is Peripheral Artery Disease?

Peripheral artery disease is a common condition affecting 8 to 12 million people in the United States. PAD is a vascular disease in which the arteries narrow due to plaque buildup, or atherosclerosis. This reduces the amount of oxygenated blood traveling to the lower extremities.

How Does PAD Cause Sudden Weakness in Legs

Vascular diseases like PAD, or other conditions that affect blood circulation in your body, can cause weakness in the legs while walking or climbing stairs. PAD and deep vein thrombosis (DVT) are two conditions that may make exercising, daily activities, and climbing stairs close to impossible. DVT is a life-threatening condition that occurs when a blood clot develops in a deep vein within the legs. If you think you may have DVT, immediately go to the emergency room. 

Intermittent claudication is another term that is often associated with PAD. Is It describes chronic pain in the legs caused by decreased blood flow. Pain caused by claudication can range from a dull, aching pain to severe cramp-like stabs in the buttocks, thighs, or calves. As with other conditions that cause weakness in the legs, intermittent claudication often occurs while walking or exercising and disappears while at rest. 

Difficulty Climbing Stairs

Because PAD is a progressive disease and symptoms tend to get worse over time. One symptom of PAD is difficulty climbing stairs, severely reducing mobility. The decrease in circulation within the lower extremities can cause the legs to feel heavy or tired. The sensation of physical heaviness can make lifting your legs to climb stairs close to impossible.

PAD symptoms tend to reduce or stop completely when you are at rest. Many people who have symptomatic PAD refrain from exercising or moving around because this feeling of fatigue, heaviness, or pain deters them from being active.

Why Conditions Like PAD Are Often Ignored

These two vascular conditions are often ignored because many people typically attribute their symptoms to aging. When people cannot exercise without pain, they think getting older is to blame rather than a sign of something more. A common misconception is that leg pain is associated with arthritis. Unlike arthritis, the cramping is typically focused on the muscle area, not joints.

Another reason why these two conditions are left untreated is because they don’t always exhibit symptoms. Many people don’t realize they have PAD or DVT until they are in the later stages when blood clots detach or plaque buildup clogs the entire artery. It’s important to manage high blood pressure and cholesterol, adopt healthy eating and exercise habits, as well as get checked for venous insufficiency and plaque buildup if you have a family history of these two conditions.

It’s essential to diagnose and treat vascular diseases like PAD as early as possible. It’s important to note that left untreated, PAD can lead to serious health concerns like stroke, heart attacks, and even amputation.

Diagnosis the Cause of Weakness in Legs While Walking 

It’s important to discuss symptoms you’ve been experiencing including weakness in your legs with your doctor. This can help guide your doctor in making an accurate diagnosis. If your main symptom is weakness in the legs while walking, along with other PAD symptoms such as shiny skin, slowed toenail growth, and loss of hair on the legs, your physician may refer you to a vascular doctor. 

At USA Vascular Centers, our board-certified vascular doctors are highly skilled in diagnosing PAD. They use two diagnostic tests to detect the presence of atherosclerosis in the vascular system: an ankle-brachial index (ABI) test or an angiogram. 

During an ABI test, your doctor will take the blood pressure in your foot and in your arm and then compare the two. An angiogram involves injecting contrast dye into your vascular system through a tiny incision in the groin. Using X-ray imaging and the contrast dye, your vascular doctor can detect blockages in your arteries. 

If your doctor determines that you have PAD, they may recommend lifestyle changes to help slow the progression of the disease. In some cases, advanced treatment will be necessary to help improve your quality of life and reduce the risk of PAD-related complications.

Treatment for Muscle Weakness in Legs and PAD

When treating muscle weakness in the legs, the management depends on the cause. Treating the cause of the pain and fatigue may help ease your symptoms. Your regular physician can help you navigate those diagnoses. For peripheral artery disease, our doctors at USA Vascular Centers perform three minimally invasive procedures to help treat PAD: angioplasty, stent placement, and atherectomy. 

During an angioplasty, your doctor will insert a thin, balloon-tipped needle into the skin near the affected artery. Using a guidewire, the doctor will thread the needle through the artery until it reaches the blockage. Here, the balloon will inflate, compressing the plaque against the artery walls and making room for blood to flow more normally.

A stent placement is an angioplasty with an additional step. Instead of simply using a balloon to widen the artery, the doctor will place a small mesh stent inside the artery to keep it open permanently. 

For an atherectomy, the doctor uses a tiny blade to cut the plaque out of the artery. When you schedule a consultation with one of our vascular doctors, they will take your medical history, assess your symptoms, provide a diagnosis, and then consult with you to share their suggestions for the best minimally invasive treatment. 

Both before and after PAD treatment, you will want to follow your doctor’s instructions for lifestyle changes that can help prevent PAD from getting worse. It’s important to stop smoking, start an exercise plan, and modify your diet to help control the disease. Medication may also be needed to help lower your blood pressure or cholesterol and prevent blood clots from forming.

Your Next Step – Schedule a Consultation with USA Vascular Centers

If you have difficulty climbing stairs or are experiencing leg, thigh, calf, or buttock pain, schedule an appointment with one of our board-certified vascular doctors to determine if PAD could be the reason. Our empathetic doctors will guide you through the diagnostic and treatment process with utmost care and expertise, helping you get back to doing the things you love with the people you love.

Don’t wait for your symptoms to worsen. Give us a call at 888.773.2193 or schedule your appointment online.

Sources Cited

  1. “Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).” Mayo Clinic, the Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 15 October 2021, https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/amyotrophic-lateral-sclerosis/symptoms-causes/syc-20354022. Accessed 26 January 2022.

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