The Surprising Cause of Leg Pain You Need to Know About

December 06, 2017

Recently, Jane’s legs have been cramping up when she walks her dogs. She has to take frequent breaks because the pain is so bad. It is becoming more and more of a problem, so she only walks a short distance – or not at all. She figures it’s probably just a part of getting older, but as a precaution she schedules an appointment with her doctor.

Jane’s doctor recognized that her symptoms might be something serious. Using a blood pressure cuff, she conducted a simple ankle-brachial index test to compare Jane’s blood pressure in her ankle and arm. The test confirmed her doctor’s suspicions: Jane has Peripheral Artery Disease, or PAD, which is a narrowing of the arteries to the legs typically due to plaque buildup that impacts 12 million Americans each year. When left untreated, PAD can lead to coronary artery disease, heart attack and even stroke.

A Treatable Condition

The good news is that PAD can be treated with lifestyle changes including improved nutrition and exercise. But if exercise is too painful, how can someone with PAD exercise enough to make a difference?

This past spring, the US Centers for Medicare and Medicaid announced that it will extend coverage for Supervised Exercise Therapy (SET) for people diagnosed with PAD. According to the American Association of Cardiovascular and Pulmonary Rehabilitation, SET programs can increase a patient’s walking distances, quality of life and overall functional capacity.

Shore Medical Center’s Outpatient Rehabilitation Center recently became approved to provide SET for PAD patients. Chris Kozmor, RN, director of cardiopulmonary rehabilitation, and her team of exercise physiologists, work with PAD patients to develop a customized exercise program. Exercise consists primarily of walking on a treadmill. The treadmill speed and grade of the incline is determined during an evaluation at the initial exercise session. Most patients begin at a 2-mph speed. Patients are asked to walk to a mild to moderate pain level, stop and sit down and rest until the pain goes away, and then resume walking. During the course of the treatment, patients gradually build from walking a total of 15 minutes a session up to 60 minutes. Shore’s exercise physiologists are trained to care for patients with a wide range of medical conditions and histories.  

Kozmor and her team are thrilled to be able to care for patients with PAD.

“Exercise can vastly improve a PAD patient’s overall health, and benefits start to show after just four to eight weeks of the program. Without the structure and support of a SET program, it can be difficult for PAD patients to get past the pain. We’re here to guide and support patients through those painful moments, and encourage them to get back on the treadmill. We look forward to helping more people in our area improve their overall health and get back to the life they love.”

Recognizing Risk Factors and Symptoms

Because PAD often goes undiagnosed, it’s important to understand your risks for developing it as well as the potential symptoms. People who smoke, have diabetes, are obese, have high blood pressure or cholesterol, inactive people and people of African American descent are all at greater risk for developing PAD.

If you also exhibit any of the following symptoms, you should talk to your doctor about testing for PAD:

  • Cramping or pain in your hip or leg muscles, especially when walking or with exercise, and the pain subsides after exercise stops
  • Numbness in the legs
  • Coldness in the lower leg or foot
  • Lower extremity sores that don’t heal
  • A change in your legs’ skin color
  • Slower growth of leg hair and toenails
  • A weak leg pulse
  • Erectile dysfunction in men

To qualify for the PAD supervised exercise therapy program at Shore, you only need a positive PAD test result and referral from your physician. The Shore Center for Outpatient Rehabilitation is located at 710 Centre Street in Somers Point, across from Shore Medical Center, and is open Monday through Friday. To learn more, call 609-653-4677.