Muscle Cramping While Walking or Exercising Could Be Trouble

by Brad Hayman, DPM, Complete Foot & Ankle Care

Peripheral vascular disease (PVD or PAD/peripheral arterial disease), often called “poor circulation,” is a common condition that affects the blood flow to the legs and feet.

With age, smoking, diabetes and other medical problems, blood vessels can become damaged and lead to peripheral vascular disease. Plaque (a buildup of fat and other materials) may collect along the inner walls of blood vessels, particularly arteries. 

The plaque and inflammation of the vessels can cause narrowing that results in a restriction or blockage of blood flow to the legs and feet.

The symptoms associated with peripheral vascular disease can include muscle cramping during walking or exercise. In more severe cases the leg and foot tissues become starved for oxygen carried by the blood leading to tissue damage and even gangrene.

Early diagnosis and treatment is critical to treat PVD/PAD. A complete physical exam and history is important to evaluate underlying medical conditions that may contribute to PVD/PAD while non-invasive testing can determine the extent of the problem.

Testing is often ankle/brachial index-pressure testing, or an arterial duplex/doppler exam that uses sound waves to make images of blood vessels and evaluate blood flow.

Today technology exists to open blocked vessels without major surgery. Stents, angioplasty and even grafting can be done with minimal risk and good results to improve blood flow to legs and feet.

Patients identified to be at high risk for PVD/PAD should be tested regularly (yearly or based on symptoms) to evaluate the extent of the disease and progression over time. This allows for proactive treatment including lifestyle changes, medical management of underlying conditions and surgical treatment as necessary.