Skip to Content
Intermittent claudication is a symptom of peripheral arterial disease. Intermittent claudication is a tight, aching, or squeezing pain in the calf, foot, thigh, or buttock that occurs during exercise, such as walking up a steep hill or a flight of stairs. This pain usually occurs after the same amount of exercise and is relieved by rest.
Many people who have peripheral arterial disease do not have any symptoms.
But if you do have symptoms, you may have intermittent
People with intermittent claudication usually describe the pain as a
deep aching that gradually gets worse until they rest. Sometimes, the
leg may also cramp or feel weak.
Your speed and whether you are walking uphill or downhill are all
things that affect how far you can walk before you feel pain. If you have
severe arterial blockage and poor circulation, you will find walking long
distances to be a greater challenge. The average person with blockage of one
major arterial segment in a leg can walk 90 to 180 meters (a football field or
two) before pain starts. As more blockages develop, the pain can appear earlier
and earlier. In severe cases a person can only walk a few feet before needing
Pain at rest, without exercise, means that arterial blockage is
advanced. If effective treatment is not started, tissue death can happen. The pain is often noticed at night and is
relieved by hanging the leg off a bed or couch. The pain also may improve with
walking, because gravity helps blood to reach the foot. As PAD gets worse, the
pain may interrupt sleep, cause a lack of appetite, and make the leg sensitive
to the touch.
Many problems can cause leg pain that is similar to intermittent claudication but is not related to peripheral arterial disease. These problems include:
Other conditions can also cut off blood flow to the leg and
cause leg pain. But these are conditions that can happen suddenly. They include:
Other Works Consulted
Creager MA, Libby P (2015). Peripheral arterial diseases. In DL Mann et al., eds., Braunwald's Heart Disease: A Textbook of Cardiovascular Medicine, 10th ed., vol. 2, pp. 1312–1332. Philadelphia: Saunders.
White C (2007). Intermittent claudication. New England Journal of Medicine, 356(12): 1241–1250.
ByHealthwise StaffPrimary Medical ReviewerRakesh K. Pai, MD, FACC - Cardiology, ElectrophysiologyE. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal MedicineSpecialist Medical ReviewerMartin J. Gabica, MD - Family Medicine
Current as ofJune 4, 2016
Current as of:
June 4, 2016
Rakesh K. Pai, MD, FACC - Cardiology, Electrophysiology & E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine & Martin J. Gabica, MD - Family Medicine
To learn more about Healthwise, visit Healthwise.org.
© 1995-2016 Healthwise, Incorporated. Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.
© Copyright 2017 Rush Copley Medical Center • 2000 Ogden Avenue; Aurora, IL 60504
Main: 630-978-6200 • Physician Referral & Information: 630-978-6700 or 866-4COPLEY (866-426-7539)