Calf Pain Could Be a Symptom of Peripheral Artery Disease
If you’ve been experiencing pain in your calf (the lower back part of the lower leg) pain, you might be wondering if the pain is related to peripheral artery disease (PAD). PAD is a chronic condition that affects the blood vessels in your legs, feet, and ankles. It can cause certain types of pain in your calves, including:
- Cramps: These can occur when you walk or exercise, and they typically go away with rest.
- Tightness: This feeling can be similar to a muscle cramp, but it is not as painful.
- Tiredness: Your calves may feel tired or weak after walking or exercising.
One of the most notable types of peripheral artery disease calf pain is cramping in the calves while exercising, especially if it involves the legs. This PAD calf pain is called intermittent claudication.
If you suspect your calf pain may be related to peripheral artery disease, schedule a screening with the highly qualified vascular specialists at USA Vascular Centers. Our skilled vascular doctors offer expert diagnosis and effective treatments to help reduce symptoms of PAD and resolve your calf pain.
Why Does PAD Cause Calf Pain?
Peripheral artery disease is caused by plaque buildup (atherosclerosis) in the arteries traveling to the extremities. The plaque buildup causes the passageways inside your arteries to narrow, restricting the flow of blood to the limbs. While PAD can occur in arms and legs, it is more common in legs.
When you exercise, the muscles in your legs contract, a process that requires oxygen. Blood flow from the heart usually delivers that oxygen. However, if there’s a blockage in the arteries, your muscles don’t receive enough oxygenated blood to fulfill those demands. This results in calf pain during exercise, a warning sign that your leg muscles need more blood to function correctly.
If you’re experiencing PAD calf pain (also known as atherosclerosis calf pain), you may also notice numbness or weakness in your legs due to decreased blood flow. It’s important to know that these conditions can be treated. Diagnosing PAD is the first step in resolving calf pain issues..
What Are the Signs of Poor Calf Circulation?
While it might seem difficult to tell if you have poor circulation in their calf, there are several indicators to look for if you’re concerned. Vascular calf pain during exercise is one of the most significant clues, especially if the pain goes away after you sit down to rest. Numbness and tingling in your calves can also be a sign of poor calf circulation.
Your body might give you visual signs, too. Have you noticed that the hair on your legs seems unusually thin? If you’re seeing patchy spots without any leg hair, it may be a sign of poor calf circulation. Slow toenail growth is another indicator. Without appropriate oxygen and nutrients, your body can’t grow toenails and leg hair like it used to.
Keep an eye out for changes to the skin on your legs and feet, too. Does the skin look shinier than usual? Does it look bluish-purple or discolored? Does it feel cold to the touch, especially when you compare the temperature of one leg with the other? These are all signs of poor calf circulation due to PAD.
You might also notice that scratches or wounds on your legs seem to take a long time to heal or not heal at all. This indicates that your body is struggling to heal your skin properly due to insufficient blood circulation.
Make an appointment with a vascular specialist as soon as you notice PAD related calf pain. The sooner you can get treated for poor calf circulation, the better. PAD doesn’t improve on its own, and without treatment, the poor circulation in your calf muscles can turn into constant pain, numbness, and tingling. It can even progress to critical limb ischemia, a severe blockage in the arteries that can lead to amputation.
When to See a Vascular Specialist
Don't ignore calf pain, even if it seems minor. It could be an early sign of PAD, which includes leg cramps during exercise (intermittent claudication). Many people mistake this pain for normal aging or tiredness. Acting early can greatly improve PAD symptoms, so consult a vascular specialist promptly.
A PAD screening is recommended if you experience calf pain when:
- Climbing stairs
- Engaging in mildly strenuous everyday activities that involve your legs.
At USA Vascular Centers, our vascular specialists are leading experts in diagnosing and treating PAD. We detect PAD with the following diagnostic tests:
- Ankle-brachial index (ABI): In this test, your doctor compares the blood pressure in your arms and legs to determine if one lacks blood flow.
- Vascular ultrasound: This procedure involves your doctor placing a small, handheld instrument (transducer) on your skin. The transducer produces sound waves that bounce off your arteries, generating ultrasonic images of your vascular system.
- Angiogram: A minimally invasive procedure, angiography uses a catheter, contrast dye, and X-ray imaging to detect blockages in the vascular system.
PAD Risk Factors and Regular Checkups
If you have a higher risk for factors PAD, such as smoking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or diabetes it is important to see a vascular specialist regularly. They can help manage your risk and ensure early intervention if needed.
How to Treat Calf Pain Caused by Peripheral Artery Disease
At USA Vascular Centers, your care team will create a personalized plan to treat your peripheral artery disease calf pain. Since PAD calf pain is only a symptom, your doctor will focus on helping you treat PAD itself. While peripheral artery disease cannot be cured or reversed, treatment can help alleviate symptoms and significantly slow the progression of the disease.
Your vascular specialist may recommend lifestyle changes, such as eating a balanced diet, quitting smoking, and beginning an exercise program. If you’re experiencing PAD calf pain and are concerned about limiting your exercise, express your concerns to your doctor. You may be able to ease into a supervised walking program that slowly builds up your endurance and reduces intermittent claudication symptoms.
If needed, your doctor may prescribe medication to lower your cholesterol or high blood pressure, or to help reduce the risk of blood clots. You may also need one of the following minimally invasive, non-surgical treatments:
Schedule a Consultation with USA Vascular Centers
At USA Vascular Centers, our board-certified vascular physicians can perform angioplasty, stent placement, or atherectomy to help treat peripheral artery disease and calf pain. Our state-of-the-art outpatient centers adhere to rigorous patient safety standards and are certified by the Accreditation Association for Ambulatory Health Care (AAAHC).
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
If you notice pain in your calves while going for a walk or climbing stairs, it’s a good idea to get checked. In the earlier stages of PAD, calf pain goes away once you sit down and rest for a few minutes and starts up again when you get moving. But, as PAD progresses, calf pain typically gets worse.
Eventually, PAD calf pain becomes constant. You might find relief by hanging your legs off the edge of a bed. On the other hand, propping your legs up on a chair or ottoman may increase the pain. The pain might even be bad enough to keep you from sleeping. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, consult a vascular specialist as soon as possible.
Vascular calf pain can feel like cramping, achiness, or a burning sensation in your legs. You might notice an occasional tingling or numbness, as well. In some people, peripheral artery disease calf pain feels more like tired, heavy legs that don’t want to move. Regardless of the kind of feeling you experience, calf pain caused by peripheral artery disease will worsen without treatment.
Vascular disease in the legs and calves is linked to a higher risk of heart attack, stroke, and amputation. The good news is that lifestyle changes can help slow the progression of vascular disease throughout the body. Cases of moderate to severe PAD can be treated with minimally invasive procedures like angioplasty, stent placement, and atherectomy. The important thing is to get evaluated by a vascular specialist . Once you receive a PAD diagnosis, your doctor can treat and monitor your condition.
Anyone over the age of 65 is naturally at risk of developing PAD. People with risk factors for atherosclerosis can develop PAD at any age, especially if they smoke, high cholesterol, or diabetes. Anyone with a family history of heart attack, stroke, or vascular disease is also at an increased risk of PAD.