Avoiding Leg Pain

Some people think that leg pain is a part of getting older. But you might be surprised to learn that a type of leg pain caused through exercise that only goes away with rest can be caused by intermittent claudication (IC). IC is a symptom of the hardening of arteries and often causes pain in the legs, which can make it hard for a person to walk. The pain of IC can be described in three ways:

  1. It is a cramping pain in the legs or buttocks during exercise.
  2. Leg cramps subside within 10 minutes of resting.
  3. It almost always occurs after having walked the same distance.

IC can be confused with arthritis of the spine, herniated disk, and other diseases of the spine which can pinch the nerves that supply the legs.


IC is a syndrome caused by a lack of blood supply due to fatty build-up and artery blockage that limits blood flow. Smoking is the biggest risk factor for vessel disease. Other risk factors include diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, excess weight, lack of exercise, and a family history of blood vessel problems. Lack of blood flow to the lower legs may result in deformed toenails, hair loss, skin thinning, ulcers, and infections on the feet or ankles. Small cuts and wounds on the lower legs may heal very slowly, therefore foot care is vital in treatment for those with diabetes. Diabetics should check their feet every day and visit their foot doctor often.


Treatment for leg pain and related vessel problems involve lifestyle changes first and foremost. Other key factors in treatment are to stop smoking, working to lower blood pressure, cholesterol, lipids, and blood sugar levels, as well as exercise. Walking has been a treatment option for IC for many years since studies have shown that working out can increase walking distance and lessen pain. Also, medications can be used to improve blood vessel health. As a last resort, minor surgery may be performed to help restore blood flow in people whose arteries are blocked. So, if you are combating leg pain, discuss your symptoms with your doctor. It just may help you take that next step.


Reviewed and updated by Di Bush, PhD

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