What is Claudication?
If you’ve heard the word “claudication” at any point at the doctor’s office, you may be wondering, “What is claudication?” Claudication is pain or cramping in the legs caused by decreased blood flow to the muscles during physical activity. The pain usually radiates from the buttocks, thighs, and calves, typically after walking for a long time at a brisk pace. You may not notice it during short walks, or when moving at a leisurely pace, so many people assume it is just a sign of aging.
You might hear the term “intermittent claudication” used to describe this condition because of how it flares and dissipates depending on the type, duration, and intensity of exercise. If left untreated, claudication can worsen to the point where it is noticeable even when resting or trying to sleep.
Leg claudication is the most common symptom of peripheral artery disease (PAD). PAD is a circulatory condition characterized by narrow arteries due to plaque buildup in the limbs. This buildup restricts blood flow to the tissues and muscles of the limbs but most often in the legs. While this is a serious condition, treatment is available at USA Vascular Centers that can improve symptoms.
The main symptom of leg claudication is a heavy, achy feeling in the muscles used for walking, running, or jumping¹. Many people feel the effects of claudication in their calves, but claudication pain can also occur in the hips, feet, thighs, and buttocks. Some will also feel numbness or tingling due to lower extremity claudication.
Earlier on in the progression of peripheral artery disease, you may only feel this pain or discomfort while you’re exercising. Instead of feeling like you can walk several blocks and still have energy left over, you may begin to feel the tell-tale ache after just a short distance. For some, claudication may even cause limping. Once you get back from your walk, you may feel the urge to sit down and rest your legs.
With intermittent claudication, your legs will begin to stop aching once you’ve sat down and rested. Claudication caused by a more advanced case of peripheral artery disease may not dissipate so quickly. When your pain lingers even while you’re resting, it’s time to see a vascular doctor to get an evaluation for PAD, one of the top claudication causes. This is especially true if you experience claudication symptoms and other PAD symptoms, such as skin discoloration, slowed toenail growth, and changes in skin temperature.
What Causes Claudication in the Legs?
Leg claudication occurs when too little oxygen is transported to the muscles through the bloodstream. When the muscles are working, such as climbing stairs or going for a walk, they require more oxygen than when you are resting.
Oxygen is carried through the bloodstream and converts glucose into fuel for your muscles. More blood needs to be pumped when the muscles are active because they require more energy to function as expected.
Adequate blood flow cannot properly transport nutrients to the muscles through narrowed arteries. You may experience leg claudication as you exercise but feel fine when sitting or lying down. As plaque builds up in the arteries, claudication can progress into near-constant pain, which indicates that the muscles are not getting adequate oxygen, even at rest.
Left untreated, claudication symptoms caused by PAD can lead to non-healing wounds or open sores on the legs, feet, or ankles. When claudication progresses to the point that your legs hurt all the time, this can indicate that the most serious complication of PAD and claudication, critical limb ischemia, is imminent. Critical limb ischemia (CLI) is severe blockage of the arteries leading to the lower extremities.
If you have CLI, you may experience constant pain from your toes up through your buttocks and hips. You must see a doctor right away to treat the underlying cause of the CLI². If left untreated, critical limb ischemia will lead to tissue death and necessitate amputation.
Does Peripheral Artery Disease Cause Claudication?
Peripheral artery disease can cause leg claudication and is the most common sign of the condition. PAD occurs when there is excessive plaque buildup in the lower extremity arteries, which leads to claudication and decreased mobility.
Signs of claudication from PAD include:
- Pain in the calves, feet, thighs, hips, or buttocks
- Numbness, tingling, and weakness in the lower extremities
- Soreness in muscles every time you are active
- Discomfort alleviated at rest
If left untreated, the pain may become more severe and disturb you even when you are resting. Talk to one of our vascular doctors about how minimally invasive treatment can reduce your pain and improve your mobility.
How to Test for Leg Claudication and PAD
Are you wondering how to find out if your leg claudication is caused by PAD? At USA Vascular Centers, our compassionate vascular doctors diagnose PAD in two ways: an ankle-brachial index (ABI) test or an angiogram. In an ankle-brachial index test, the doctor measures the blood pressure in your arm and in your ankle and compares the results of both measurements. A number below 1.0 indicates arterial disease, which is likely the cause of your claudication symptoms.
Another way for vascular doctors to determine if PAD causes the claudication symptoms is by performing an angiogram. In this minimally invasive procedure, the physician uses contrast dye and X-ray imaging to detect the presence of blockage in the arteries.
If your diagnostic tests show PAD signs, your vascular doctor will create a personalized treatment plan to treat leg claudication caused by PAD.
How to Treat Claudication Caused by PAD
For some PAD cases, your doctor may recommend lifestyle changes to help slow the progression of lower extremity claudication. Quitting smoking, eating a healthier diet, and starting an exercise plan can all help improve circulation. These lifestyle changes are often recommended alongside minimally invasive endovascular procedures that help widen narrowed arteries.
At USA Vascular Centers, our doctors are dedicated to caring for patients who suffer from leg claudication caused by PAD. These minimally invasive treatments can help ease the symptoms of claudication.
Your vascular doctor may recommend an angioplasty, which uses a tiny catheter tipped with an inflatable balloon to open the narrowed arteries, allowing more blood to flow through. This procedure may be performed in conjunction with stent placement, where a mesh stent is placed inside the artery to hold it open. A third option, atherectomy, involves safely removing plaque from the artery walls using a laser or tiny blade.
Our vascular doctors are highly trained to perform all three minimally invasive procedures. These treatments can help alleviate claudication symptoms, allowing you to enjoy increased mobility and the daily activities you love.
Schedule a Consultation with USA Vascular Centers
If you’ve been suffering from leg claudication, you can get help at USA Vascular Centers. Our trusted vascular doctors will work with you to develop a personalized treatment plan that can reduce claudication and treat peripheral artery disease, allowing you to enjoy life again.
Schedule a consultation online or give us a call at 888.773.2193 to find out how our treatments can help alleviate claudication. Visit one of our many treatment centers to get the help you need. If you’re visiting from out of town, we have lodging to keep you comfortable before and after your appointment and treatment. Contact us today!
1. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. (2022, March 2). Claudication. Mayo Clinic. Retrieved March 15, 2022, from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/claudication/symptoms-causes/syc-20370952
2. UC Davis Health, V. C. (n.d.). Critical limb ischemia (CLI). Critical Limb Ischemia | Vascular Center | UC Davis Health. Retrieved March 15, 2022, from https://health.ucdavis.edu/vascular/diseases/cli.html