When walking hurts: What you can do about leg pain

Walking often tops the list of good ways to get exercise. But walking isn't easy for everyone. A number of conditions can cause leg pain that makes walking difficult. The June 2008 issue of the Harvard Health Letter looks at treatment and management of four of these non-arthritic conditions. Among them: Peripheral artery disease. This condition, a form of atherosclerosis, typically affects the arteries that supply the leg muscles. This can cause leg cramps, or the legs may feel heavy or tire easily. Researchers have found that structured, supervised exercise programs can help people with peripheral artery disease increase the amount of walking they can do without pain. These programs usually involve walking until it hurts, resting until the pain goes away, and walking again. The regimen is most effective if people follow it for about 30 minutes several days a week. If peripheral artery disease is serious or doesn't improve with treatment, doctors can reopen a blocked artery in the leg with the same procedures used for coronary artery disease: angioplasty or bypass surgery. Chronic venous insufficiency. This condition of poor circulation involves the veins and the blood's return trip to the heart and lungs. Symptoms include swelling, skin inflammation, and open wounds on the ankle. Legs may feel achy or heavy. A mild case can be helped by lying on your back and using a pillow to elevate your legs. If you're sitting for long periods, pointing your toes up and down several times can help. More severe cases can be treated with compression stockings. Surgical treatments are reserved for the most serious cases.
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