Why Do My Legs Hurt When I Walk?

Guest blog post by Gary Gwertzman, MD, FACS, RPVI.

There are many reasons why one’s leg may hurt and vascular blockages are definitely on that list.

What are vascular blockages?

Arteries are the pipes that bring blood from the heart to the rest of the body. Blood
 carries oxygen, sugar and other nutrients that keep your body working. Arteries are normally wide open, and blood flows freely through them. Some people, however, 
develop blockages in their arteries. These blockages are commonly known as peripheral
 arterial disease or PAD. These blockages can show up anywhere in the body, but the
 legs are one of the more common sites.

Why don’t my legs hurt when I sit?

When you are sitting still, your legs don’t require much from the blood stream, and they 
feel fine. As you start to walk or exercise, your legs require more and more 
blood. If you have blockages in your arteries, however, the muscles cannot get that extra 
blood. If the blood can’t get there, your legs will start to hurt. The medical term for that 
pain is called claudication. The pain is relieved by stopping and sitting.

How will I know if it’s PAD?

The diagnosis of PAD can be very simple. Most physicians will order
 non-invasive tests that don’t use needles, but rather pressure cuffs and ultrasounds.

How is PAD treated?

If you do have PAD and you smoke, you should quit. You may also be advised to take a daily aspirin, as well as medicine 
to lower cholesterol. Exercise often helps, and some patients can exercise the pain
 away. PAD can become serious, however, so once the diagnosis is made, patients need
 to be followed very closely by their physician and a vascular specialist.

Gary Gwertzman, MD, FACS, RPVI, is the Director of Vascular Surgery at Beth Israel Brooklyn.

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