A variety of problems can lead to aching legs, including back problems, infections, and nerve damage. Overuse or injury also can cause leg pain. Most commonly, leg pain stems from trouble with the arteries or veins, such as varicose veins, phlebitis, or intermittent claudication.
Fortunately, simple home remedies can help relieve most leg pain. Here's some advice about curbing leg pain associated with intermittent claudication. (For more information see phlebitis and varicose veins.)
Intermittent claudication, a chronic pain experienced in the calf when walking, is estimated to afflict 1 to 2 percent of Americans under age 60, and about 5 percent in people age 70 and older. Though a painful and serious condition in its own right, intermittent claudication is really the symptom of a larger, more serious problem—peripheral vascular disease.
Just as plaque-clogged blood vessels in the heart lead to angina (chest pains), intermittent claudication signals the onset of restricted bloodflow in the "periphery," that is, the area farthermost from the heart—the arms and legs.
"We're talking about the symptom phase of arterial disease," says Jess R. Young, M.D. "If you get arterial disease in the heart, you get angina and heart attacks. If you get it in the head circulation, you get strokes. Intermittent claudication is the same process, but in the legs and arms."
For that reason, intermittent claudication should not be taken lightly. If you've been diagnosed as having this condition, you should continue seeing your doctor to regularly monitor the underlying disease resulting in the pain you now feel in your legs. The pain, after all, is only a symptom. The real disease is a killer. In fact, patients with intermittent claudication have a life expectancy 10 years less than people of the same age who don't have this symptom.
On the upside, there are a number of things that you can do at home to rid yourself of claudication's pain and help slow the progression of peripheral vascular disease.
Leg pain is a symptom of many conditions, some very serious. If your pain is severe, worsens rapidly, or lasts for more than a week, see your doctor as soon as possible.
Chronic foot problems that get infected are a leading cause of amputation in people who have intermittent claudication. If you have a cut, scrape, blister, or other foot problem that develops the redness, swelling, heat, and pain of infection, seek immediate medical help.
Robert Ginsburg, M.D., is the former director of the Center for Interventional Vascular Therapy at Stanford University Hospital in California.
Jess R. Young, M.D., is the former chairman of the department of vascular medicine at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation in Ohio.