Intermittent Claudication - one cause of limping

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Claudication from the Latin Claudicare: be defective / waver / incline to one side / Limp

Intermittent because it's not always present – in this case, it's present when walking or running.

Perhaps the best known sufferer was the Roman Emperor Claudius who was an unlikely seeming Emperor – his limp was just one of his unfortunate weaknesses, after a serious childhood illness. Discovered hiding in the palace by one of his soldiers, after Caligula's murder, he was 'clearly reluctant and afraid' but, finding it thrust upon him, made a good job of it - introducing many worthwhile measures to Rome's judicial system and, of course, by adding Britain to the Empire.

The condition intermittent claudication is caused by peripheral vascular disease - hardening of the arteries - which restricts blood flow, especially during exercise. It affects the leg or legs, appearing as a burning cramp in the thigh or, more usually, the calf muscle and can vary from mild discomfort to severe pain, depending on the condition of those arteries. It seems to appear in about 4 in 100 people over the age of 55 and more commonly in men, according to an Edinburgh study. (Incidentally, hardening of the arteries was found in a further 25%, who were not experiencing the symptoms).

Treatment of more severe cases usually consists ofBalloon Angioplasty - inserting and inflating a balloon into the artery thus stretching the walls outwards, allowing increased blood flow. A stent (a mesh tube) can then be inserted if required, to hold it open.

There are medicinal preparations intended to treat the condition with, apparently, variable success and it seems that simple aspirin is among the more useful ones - and there is a brand with a coating designed to prevent absorption until it passes well down the digestive tract. Aspirin tends to thin the blood slightly, allowing it to flow a little more easily.

Suitable exercise will help greatly. Walking is, of course, recommended. A walk of a few minutes or so three or four times a week will help. The pain quickly subsides after a short break so fairly frequent rests of, say, 20 - 30 seconds or so each should allow you to continue and complete your allotted task – initially, the breaks can count towards the total time.

If you work that few minutes up, over a week or two, to half an hour walking each day, that's preferable – maybe put the lead on the dog and take it out, you may well find that you get enough short breaks...

As the days wear on and turn into weeks and the weeks into months, the condition will very probably subside considerably, allowing you a rather longer time walking before discomfort sets in and when it does set in, be noticeably less severe.

Some people recommend 'walking through' the pain but that's not considered here (although walking through some discomfort can be useful...)

You will probably find that, once you're well into the routine, missing an occasional day or two's walk won't make a great difference but miss much longer than that and the condition is likely to regress and you'll need to repeat the previous few day's less pleasant walks.

Exaggerated walking, as part of your daily exercise, can also help, when bearable. Point your heel (as if pulling your toes back towards your shin), put it down, roll on your foot and push off with pointed toes.

Pointing the heel, pointing the toes and rolling the ankle while seated, with outstretched leg, can also help.

Risk Factors

Broadly, the major risk factors are:

. Diabetes

. High Cholesterol and Lipid levels

. High Blood Pressure

. Advancing age

. Smoking

Some of those will be under your control, so take heed.

A Complete Cure?

No promises.

Overall, it seems that there is one thing you can do to make a big improvement . . . easy to say . . .

If you do smoke … STOP.

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