When you can’t walk a long distance without pain, it may not simply be that you are out of shape. It could be a shortage of oxygen getting to your limbs. McLeod Vascular Surgeon Gabor Winkler, MD describes the problem and its treatment options.
Here’s a summary of Dr. Winkler’s explanation:
Claudication is a condition where the patient cannot walk without pain for any significant distance. After a certain amount of walking, the patient has to stop and relieve the pain, which results from not enough oxygen coming to the muscles. It is officially known as “intermittent claudication,” meaning that the stoppage has to be intermittent. Every time there’s an inadequate oxygen supply, the patient stops walking. As demand decreases, the blood supply can catch up. Pain subsides and they can continue to walk again.
What usually happens is over time the distance the person can walk without pain steadily decreases to the point, where they can barely walk fifty or a hundred feet without pain – sometimes even less than that.
The first step in the treatment of claudication is to identify risk factors and modify them to the patient’s benefit. Smoking cessation is extremely important in this setting. Controlled walking programs can extend the distance that the patient can walk without pain. If they continue to push themselves to the limit and beyond, they can actually experience an increase in the distance that they can walk without pain.
If that’s insufficient, medications are available to help with the pain from walking. Often, by the time they reach the vascular surgeon’s office further intervention will be necessary to help alleviate the pain by opening up the blockages. Whether that will be using minimally invasive procedures — by inserting small balloons or stents into the arteries to open them up or, in cases where that’s not possible — or has failed — then a bypass operation will be necessary, where a new path is created around the blockage.