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Leg Pain: A Symptom Not to Ignore

LegIf you’re over the age of 50 and experience leg pain when you walk or climb stairs, don’t ignore it. Studies show that one in five adults over 55 have Peripheral Vascular Disease (PVD), a common circulation problem that can significantly affect your quality of life and long-term health.

“Many people with PVD dismiss these symptoms as a normal part of aging,” said Clinical Cardiologist Elias A. Iliadis, M.D., Medical Director of Noninvasive Vascular Intervention at the Cooper Heart Institute. “Tell your doctor if you’re feeling pain in your legs and discuss whether you should be tested for PVD. Left undiagnosed and untreated, PVD puts you at risk for heart disease and stroke, and other serious, health complications.”

The most common symptoms of PVD are cramping, pain, or a tiredness or heavy feeling in the legs while walking or climbing stairs. Typically, the pain goes away with rest and returns when you’re active again.

PVD is a narrowing or blockage of arteries that decreases blood flow to the legs. The most common cause is the buildup of plaque on the inside of arteries. Plaque is made of extra cholesterol, calcium and other material in your blood. Over time, the plaque builds up along the inner walls of the arteries and prevents the blood from flowing freely to the muscles and other tissues in your legs.

This restricted blood flow is what causes the pain in your legs when you walk or climb stairs. During physical activity, your muscles need increased blood flow. If your arteries are narrowed or blocked, you’re legs aren’t getting the extra blood they need to fuel the exertion. When you’re at rest, the muscles need less blood flow, so the pain goes away.

“Given the nature of these kinds of activity-related symptoms, it’s easy to understand how people in their 50′s or 60′s might just attribute their discomfort to ‘mid-life aches and pains.’ But that’s a mistake. Making the diagnosis of PVD requires a physician’s exam and simple, noninvasive screening tests to determine if it’s PVD and evaluate it’s severity,” Dr. Iliadis said.

The Cooper Heart Institute offers expert physicians and simple, noninvasive tests to diagnose and treat PVD. The screening begins with a physical examination to check for weak pulses in the legs and includes an ankle-brachial index (ABI) test. The ABI is a painless exam that compares the blood pressure in your feet to the blood pressure in your arms to see how well your blood is flowing. If an ABI reveals an abnormal ratio, other diagnostic testing may be recommended.

“As vascular specialists, we perform thorough physical exams and simple tests, such as the ABI or pulse volume recordings, to help define the contribution of vascular disease to leg pain. At Cooper, all patients diagnosed with PVD are treated with medical therapy first, and, happily, most feel better,” Dr. Iliadis said.

75 Responses to “Leg Pain: A Symptom Not to Ignore”

  1. Louise says:

    I am a 69 year old female, in good health, I have been to several doctors, concerning the pain in my legs, I am so frustrated that they can’t find any answers for the pain that I am having in my legs I experience this pain when I get up in the morning to stand up, my legs are so weak I almost lose my balance, this happens everyday, once I start my day my legs become stronger, like after my bath. When driving for long periods of time or sitting for long periods of time, it takes a real effort to stand, without feeling weak in my legs, the pain is almost unbearable, any suggestions? Please help , I am desperate.

  2. Dr. Joseph Lombardi says:

    According to your explanation of your symptoms, it sounds like you may have arthritis or lower back problems.

  3. Gabriela Brown says:

    I am a 43 year old female. About 2 weeks ago, my legs started feeling heavy from the knee down my calves and feet. When squatting my knees deel very uncomfortable As if they are heavy and swalloen. Last night I had cramps on my right calf. I have some medical issues but this is new. When walking especially climbing stairs it feels as if my legs are tie to some heavy weights.

  4. Emily says:

    I’m a 33 year old female & have been having problems with pain in my right foot for about 2 months and now starting this week my right leg has begun to feel heavy and appears swollen and is slightly harder than the left leg. Not sure if the foot pain and the leg pain are related or not. I am on my feet at work for 10 hours a day (for the last 15 years.) I am going to see a doctor tomorrow if the heaviness doesn’t go away but now I am wondering if I should go today instead.

  5. Joyce says:

    When I get up from sitting for long periods (such as driving my car)I get out of my car and start walking and I have this heavy sensation in my very lower back/buttock that goes around to the front of my top legs down to knees. It is a weird kind of pain and heaviness that at times I am concerned that at some point I may not make it to the door. I just try to slowly keep walking though it and after a minute or two it lessens. ??

  6. gloria says says:

    I have been on crestor for about 3 weeks then i got terriable pain behind my knees. i stopped for a week seem to go away now just went back on for 3 days it started all over again. what should i do

  7. Rebecca Gonzales says:

    My right leg and thigh have been feeling heavier than the left that when getting in and out of car, I need to help my left leg with my hand to get out. When I walk, I still feel that leaden feeling on this left leg/thigh. I am 67 and this started about a week ago. I am normally on the elliptical machine, but was on vacation for a week and haven’t been back. I have no pains or discomfort, but just this heavy leg. What is this?

  8. Dizzy says:

    I am a 72 year old woman in excellent health, 140 lbs, never smoked had a regular physical recently. Only take a thyroid med and an antiinflammatory for minor arthritis pain in hands and knees..
    Exercise 5 days a week for at least 1 1/4 hours a day doing weights, walking a mile a day on treadmill, bike (indoors) 20 minutes 3x week.No problems except a few times a week I have been getting this, I GUESS I would call it heavyness from buttocks and down the back of my leg or legs. If I happen to cough I can feel it in the legs/buttocks. I also stretch well, after each exercise session. Hesitate to run to dr. All I read doesnt actually sound like it is anything.

  9. Carol Waites says:

    I am 68 yrs. old and have had progressive pain in my upper thigh area. I cannot climb stairs no get up from a chair without excruciating pain. My doctor gave me some anti-inflammatory meds but they leave me lethargic. I have had a CAT Scan but it showed nothing abnormal. .I have had an MRI and once again nothing out of the norm showed up. The lower thigh area is not effected at all. Sometimes the ankles ache and wake me up at night.
    Help please!

  10. Cooper University Hospital says:

    Hi Carol,
    If you’d like to make an appointment with a Cooper doc call (1-800-826-6737) or request and appointment at https://appointments.cooperhealth.org/index.php?source=homepage
    Thank you.

  11. Jeff cape says:

    Why are my legs so week I go to the gym and walk up our stairs a lot everyday?

  12. Gemma Durkin says:

    So today I had a black spot in my left eye (like when u look at a bright light) which disappeared. Then about half an hour later my left leg from the knee down went really heavy. Feels like it doesn’t belong to me at all. I have no pain in it at all. I’m 29 and had my second baby almost 10 weeks ago by cesarean section (second section). What could be causing it?

  13. Paul F says:

    I am a 54 year old male who likes to go to the gym and plays 5 a side football once a week. Recently I have had sore knees ,calves and front thigh pains and they do not seem to be leaving me. Some pains are with me during the night and it is very uncomfortable.I have tried hot baths ,painkillers etc but none of them seem to cure the problems.

  14. philomina says:

    Hi Sir .
    I am 31 years old . I have 2 children .after my second delivery In June I have started getting pain in my right back and pain in my left ankle. it has become difficult to climb stairs .when I rest the pain is gone but as mentioned when I am active the ankle pain is back . As it’s only 5 months after delivery . Should ignore it or should I consider a check up.

  15. Jessica zambrano says:

    I am 22 years old and for a week have been experiencing Leg numbness on both legs from my lower back all the way to my feet. I also get some cramps but mostly it feels numb. I went to the emergency room because i couldn’t stand the pain anymore. They did a xray on my back and i have inflammation. They said it could be a nerve that is causing both of my legs to numb. I have been taking the medicine they prescribed me but i have been feeling worse the numbness doesn’t go away and i can’t stand for long.

  16. Cooper University Hospital says:

    Thank you for your comment. We advise you to consult your primary care doctor. If you’d like to schedule and appointment with a Cooper physician pleas call 1-800-8-COOPER (1-800-826-6737).

  17. Suzan Bri says:

    I had had my gastric sleeve 2014 November 13. I’m 36 years old. Earlier in 2006 January I had a gastric band, which not only failed but made me put on 103lbs. I was told by my GP I should get the band removed. I did and simaltaneously I got a gastric sleeve done. It was a four-hour long surgery. However it was was successful. I lost 105lbs after that I was discharged after five days of hospital stay. When I came home I was very active and moving around normally but soon after may be a week or so, I got numbness and heaviness in my legs, I also lost my menstrual period. Before the surgery I didn’t have any delay. Whenever I go to any doctor he/she orders me bloodwork and says you’re deficient of vitamin b12 b6 b3 and vitamin d. And because I’ve lost so much weight, I’m not getting my period. I don’t want to know about that. But I’m worried about my physical activity I can’t go out or travel or play with my sister’s kids. Although I’m taking vitamin supplements and shots as prescribed. Please advice as to what I can do more.

  18. Oyebisi says:

    Am 63years old,anytime i sleep and its around 1am i do feel pain in my right and left foot almost everyday, please what can i do to rid of this midnight pains in my foot’s.

  19. Mathew says:

    hello there, I would like to inquire cause I’m having a feeling of my feet feels like its being grounded after being exposed to long time of folded or something then afterwards, it’ll feel like its kind of numbing and it goes away after I take a rest, I sometimes feel muscle cramp in the upper back to side of my shoulders, I would just like to know if this was some kind of related to PVD

  20. Barbara noll says:

    I broke my tib and fib 14 years ago. I had to have a plate on one and a screw up the other one. When I was released to go back to work I could walk for long the movement I had changed. So I worked part time and had my metal taken back out.I worked as a nursing assistant when I would have to get down on the floor my anke would never bend. I would make it hard to get up and down unless I would favor my left foot to do it .instead of my right seeing I’m right handed that’s what I favor is my right. I soon started a second job after and noticed a new symptom now when I walk up steps my muscle in my right thigh hurts.it hurts more going up steps if I carry something.I figure oh I pulled a muscle when I broke my legs it will work its way out I’ve always been strong if I just keep working its heavy work my muscle with stregthn back up and get better. It never has. All it has done is get worse as the years go one. My leg just got weaker and weaker. And the moment in my ankle isn’t coming back I had to give up my nursing I stayed with my flooring job. But now all I can do is go after tools and clean up I can’t carry anything any more the weakness and the pain is to much. I been telling the doctors something’s wrong it started when I broke my leg. All they do is keep telling me its because of my buldging disks in my back I don’t believe that. It started when I broke my legs. They sent me to other doctors no one listens to me all they say is its prolly from your back. All my muscles hurt in my legs now I feel like I have restless leg every night now from the pain and heavyness in my legs all day. I can’t walk long I’ll have pain for three days after. I can sit long it pulls the muscles. I can lay in my bed all day its the only way I get relief. I’m at my wits end I have welfare insurance I have to fight to get any kind of answer and have to fight them to send me to a doctor to find out what’s wrong I’m homeless I’m fighting disability.I need help if someone can send me somewhere that can help me or know what’s wrong please help.

  21. Ivan McLaughlin says:

    I have Diabetes and several angiom\grams stints and a fem Pop operation but still can’t walk more than 50 metres can you help strengthmy legs so I my enjoy life I am 62 years old

  22. Cooper University Hospital says:

    Oyebisi, Thank you for your comment. Unfortunately, we are unable to give medical advice out on this blog. To make an appointment with a Cooper physician please call 1-800-826-6737. Thank you.

  23. Cooper University Hospital says:

    Matthew, Thank you for your comment. Unfortunately, we are unable to give medical advice out on this blog. To make an appointment with a Cooper physician please call 1-800-826-6737.

  24. Cooper University Hospital says:

    Barbara, Thank you for your comment. Unfortunately, we are unable to give medical advice out on this blog. To make an appointment with a Cooper physician please call 1-800-826-6737. Thank you.

  25. Cooper University Hospital says:

    Suzan, Thank you for your comment. Unfortunately, we are unable to give medical advice out on this blog. To make an appointment with a Cooper physician please call 1-800-826-6737. Thank you.

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