When Your Leg Pain Isn’t Muscular

November 10, 2018

By Tom Fontana, MSPT

There are many reasons why people experience pain in their legs. Many of these have been covered in previous newsletters and can range from simple muscular strains from excessive force or overuse, sciatica from a pinched nerve in the back, bony stress reactions, or contusions.

A less common, and underappreciated cause, is vascular in nature and has a unique presentation, especially in its early stages. The pain occurs only while exercising or performing a strenuous activity and then goes away quickly with rest. If the activity is resumed, the pain returns quickly. The symptoms are worse the harder you work. This is because the blood vessels are not supplying enough oxygenated blood to the muscles you’re using, causing an insufficiency—or ischemia—not unlike a heart attack. The symptoms are often an achy, heavy feeling and is poorly localized. It often occurs in both legs and can occur in the feet, calves, thighs or buttocks.

If left unaddressed, the underlying condition (narrowing of the arteries) may progress and you will experience the condition at rest. Other signs of the condition in its later stages are patches of discolored skin or sores.

Fortunately, the condition is treatable. A visit to your PCP is in order to ensure there is not a more significant explanation for your decreased blood flow and possible treatment with medication. In addition, optimizing your lifestyle (maintaining a healthy weight, quitting smoking, managing diabetes or high blood pressure (if present)) is key including eating healthily (for assistance, consider consulting with one of our trusted partners and getting proper exercise, which is where the assistance of a physical therapist may be in order.


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