What is Claudication?

Intermittent limping caused by cramping pains in the lower leg are known as claudication. If you experience pain when walking or running but find that the throbbing and cramping stops after you rest, you’re most likely experiencing this condition.

Most people that experience this pain are also suffering from peripheral artery disease, which involves hardening of the arteries. Once the blood flow is blocked in the arteries, muscles run out of oxygen faster and start cramping under exertion. Temporary artery spasms can also create short-term episodes of this condition.

What are the Symptoms of Claudication?

Symptoms include

  • Muscle cramps in the lower leg, thigh area, or buttocks depending on where blood flow is blocked
  • Weakness in the affected muscles that slowly goes away
  • Erectile dysfunction if the groin arteries are blocked
  • Symptoms that come and go

Cramping muscle pain is also a symptom of nerve and spinal damage, along with stress fractures in the joints and bones. These other conditions are easily ruled out with nerve conductivity tests and imaging to check for fractures.

Claudication Causes

Claudication is a symptom of a greater problem known as peripheral artery disease (PAD). Claudication is caused when there is a lack of proper circulation in the legs. At rest, the blood flow may be sufficient so that enough oxygen is reaching the muscles, and no pain is present. However, when a person walks or begins to exercise, the muscles do not receive a sufficient flow of blood nor enough oxygen. This may lead to intense pain.

This reduced blood flow and oxygen level in the legs is generally caused by atherosclerosis which is commonly known as hardening of the arteries. In atherosclerosis, the blood vessels become very narrow and don’t let enough blood flow through.

Another very dangerous condition may be the cause of claudication. Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) occurs when a blood clot forms in the leg. The clot hinders the flow of blood and oxygen to the muscles. These type of clots may migrate to the heart and lungs and prove fatal.

How is Claudication Treated?

Treatment is based on the severity of artery damage and its causes. For example, obese patients or those who smoke go through lifestyle changes first to reduce further damage to the arteries. Exercise is prescribed, but not until the heart and circulation functions are checked to determine a safe level of training. This ensures you can exercise without being interrupted by cramping and weakness.

Medications to reduce the strain on your heart are paired with blood pressure control treatments to allow you to exercise more without straining your arteries. By training your body and addressing the initial causes, you can control the spread of artery hardening and prevent claudication.

Claudication Prevention

Since atherosclerosis is by far the major cause of claudication, the prevention of claudication will center around preventing the development of atherosclerosis.

Those who are smokers should quit smoking as soon as possible. Smokers face an enormous risk of developing atherosclerosis, claudication and a whole host of other cardiac and pulmonary conditions.

To prevent claudication, it is important to maintain a healthy weight. Diet plays a major role in the prevention of this condition. Adopting a low-fat and high-fiber diet will help to reduce cholesterol levels in the blood. A high level of cholesterol leads directly to atherosclerosis and claudication.

It is very important to begin an exercise program. A program of moderate exercise that is performed at least every other day will keep blood circulating, will reduce blood pressure and will help to maintain a proper weight.

Last Reviewed:
September 18, 2016
Last Updated:
December 06, 2017