Calf Pain: It can be serious


Calf Pain is something we don’t ignore in Cardiac Rehabilitation programs. It can be a symptom of a number of things life threatening, severe or minor. So what are we looking for?

Symptoms of blood clot in leg

This is called Deep Vein Thrombosis  or DVT

Only about half of the people who have DVT have signs and symptoms. These signs and symptoms occur in the leg affected by the deep vein clot. They include:

  • Swelling of the leg or along a vein in the leg
  • Pain or tenderness in the leg, which you may feel only when standing or walking
  • Increased warmth in the area of the leg that’s swollen or painful
  • Red or discolored skin on the leg

Pulmonary Embolism

Some people aren’t aware of a deep vein clot until they have signs and symptoms of PE. Signs and symptoms of PE include:

  • Unexplained shortness of breath
  • Pain with deep breathing
  • Coughing up blood

Rapid breathing and a fast heart rate also may be signs of PE.

Blood clots occur when blood thickens and clumps together. Most deep vein blood clots occur in the lower leg or thigh. They also can occur in other parts of the body. A blood clot in a deep vein can break off and travel through the bloodstream. The loose clot is called an embolus. It can travel to an artery in the lungs and block blood flow. This condition is called Pulmonary Embolism or PE.

PE is a very serious condition. It can damage the lungs and other organs in the body and cause death. It’s fatal in up to 26% of cases.

Blood clots can form in your body’s deep veins if:

  • A vein’s inner lining is damaged. Injuries caused by physical, chemical, or biological factors can damage the veins. Such factors include surgery, serious injuries, inflammation, and immune responses.
  • Blood flow is sluggish or slow. Lack of motion can cause sluggish or slow blood flow. This may occur after surgery, if you’re ill and in bed for a long time, or if you’re traveling for a long time.
  • Your blood is thicker or more likely to clot than normal. Some inherited conditions (such as factor V Leiden) increase the risk of blood clotting. Hormone therapy or birth control pills also can increase the risk of clotting.

For Prevention measures to avoid blood clots click here

Symptoms of Peripheral Artery Disease

Peripheral Artery Disease is the most common reason for amputations of toes, feet and legs. The risk factors that cause heart disease also cause poor blood flow to other areas of the body. Calf pain while walking is a warning sign for 50% who have blockages in the legs. If peripheral artery disease is an issue it needs to be closely monitored.

Signs and symptoms of P.A.D. include:

  • Weak or absent pulses in the legs or feet
  • Sores or wounds on the toes, feet, or legs that heal slowly, poorly, or not at all
  • A pale or bluish color to the skin
  • A lower temperature in one leg compared to the other leg
  • Poor nail growth on the toes and decreased hair growth on the legs
  • Erectile dysfunction, especially among men who have diabetes
  • Pain with walking or climbing stairs

People who have P.A.D. may have calf or leg pain, numbness, aching, or heaviness in the leg muscles pain or discomfort when walking or climbing stairs.  You might also feel include cramping in the affected leg(s) and in the buttocks, thighs, calves, and feet. This discomfort may ease after resting.  About 10 percent of people who have P.A.D. have claudication. This symptom is more likely in people who also have blockages or atherosclerosis  in other arteries.

During physical activity, your muscles need increased blood flow. If your blood vessels are narrowed or blocked, your muscles won’t get enough blood, which will lead to symptoms. When resting, the muscles need less blood flow, so the symptoms will go away.

Learn more about Peripheral Artery Disease

Overuse Symptoms

A calf strain is an injury to the muscle.  When a muscle is strained, the muscle is stretched too far.  So stretching it isn’t going to make if feel better. Less severe strains pull the muscle beyond its normal excursion.  These often are seen when people are doing more walking than they are used to, such as walking treadmills – especially when the grade is elevated. Also these are seen from poor footwear. People who haven’t exercised in years may have poor footwear. I have seen patients come in wearing slippers, heels, broken down shoes that have no shock absorption.  More severe strains tear the muscle fibers and can even cause a complete tear of the muscle. Most commonly, calf strains are minor tears of some muscle fibers, but the bulk of the muscle tissue remains intact.

old shoes

The amount of discomfort helps to determine the severity of the injury. Calf strains are usually graded as follows:

  • Grade I Calf Strain: Mild discomfort, often minimal disability. Usually minimal or no limits to activity.
  • Grade II Calf Strain: Moderate discomfort with walking, and limited ability to perform activities, such as running and jumping; may have swelling and bruising associated.
  • Grade III Calf Strain: Severe injury that can cause inability to walk. Often patients complain of muscle spasm, swelling and significant bruising.

Muscle Cramping

A muscle cramp is a sudden, uncontrolled contraction of a muscle. This type of pain is most commonly  called a “charley horse.”

Leg cramps occur when the muscle suddenly and forcefully contracts.

Leg cramps usually last less than one minute, but may last several minutes before the contraction subsides. In some patients, the leg cramps occur primarily at night, and can awaken the patient from sleep. When the muscle cramp is severe or long lasting the muscles will be sore for a day or two following.

What causes a leg cramp?
The exact cause of a leg cramp is not well understood, but there are some risk factors that are thought to contribute to this condition:

  • Muscle fatigue
  • Heavy exercising
  • Dehydration
  • High weight (not necessarily obesity)
  • Electrolyte imbalances
  • Medications (statins, prednisone, lasix…)

The most common cause that is typically seen in patients who develop leg cramps is exercising in an unusual way, meaning either more activity or a different exercise. Leg cramps are more common in older patients. Patients who weigh more are more prone to developing leg cramps. Also, some medications can cause side effects of leg cramping. Cramping is something that should be brought to the attention of your health care provider as soon as possible

Sources: National Heart Lung and Blood Institute

http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/dvt/

Advertisements

Peripheral Artery Disease

Heart patients often have Peripheral Artery Disease

Peripheral Artery Disease also known as PAD is when the arteries in the legs become narrowed or clogged with fatty deposits, or plaque. The buildup of plaque causes the arteries to harden and narrow, which is called atherosclerosis. It is the same process that causes heart disease. It doesn’t just happen in the heart it can occur elsewhere in the body and this is known as PAD.  When leg arteries are hardened and clogged, blood flow to the legs and feet is reduced. Lower-extremity PAD is a serious disease that affects about 8 million Americans. The hardened arteries found in people with PAD also put them at risk for hardening and narrowing of the arteries to the kidneys and the brain. That is why people with  heart disease are at risk for PAD, kidney disease and stroke.

How do I know if I have PAD?

Working in cardiac rehabilitation I would often encounter patients who ended up having peripheral artery disease and were unaware of it.  Some of the tell tale signs would be pain with walking, or complaining of wooden feeling in the legs when walking. Fatigue, tiredness or pain in your legs, thighs or buttocks that always happens when you walk but that goes away when you rest.  This discomfort often goes away within two to five minutes of rest. This is a  very classic symptom.  Another classic symptom is night pain in legs, calves, feet or toes that wakes you up. Many patients describe having to sit at the edge of the bed and dangle their feet or get up and walk to relieve the discomfort. Be alert as well for slow to heal wounds in the legs or feet, as the poor blood supply limits wound healing is another clue to peripheral artery disease. Changes in the color of your legs, or the temperature – often the limb feels cold, looks whitish or bluish.

Smoking and PAD

If  you are a heart patient and a smoker  you are very likely to have PAD.  Smoking is  the number one cause of PAD.  Studies show that smoking even half a pack of cigarettes per day may increase the risk of having PAD by 30 to 50 percent. If you do smoke it is imperative that you quit as soon as possible. A cardiologist I worked with would tell his patients if you are diabetic and smoke you will lose a limb to PAD it is a matter of when not if.

Diabetes and PAD

The other big risk factor is diabetes. Diabetes makes the arteries narrow and hard thus restricting blood flow. People with diabetes are at higher risk for having PAD.  Some studies have found that one out of three people with diabetes over age 50 has PAD, and PAD is even more common in African Americans and Hispanics who have diabetes.  The challenge of course with this is that if blood flow is reduced wounds do not heal properly, and limbs can become necrotic and require amputations. A challenge with diabetes is that often the patients with PAD will not get the classic leg pain symptoms. For this reason any diabetic with risk factors for PAD should have his/her legs checked regularly.

Testing for PAD

Testing for PAD includes palpating for pulses in the foot and ankle region. If pulses are not easily felt then the next step is a Doppler ABI – Ankle Brachial Index measurement. This is a painless test in which the blood pressure of the arms is compared to the blood pressures in the lower leg. If there is a large difference this suggests PAD.  Other imaging including CT scans may be done. The next step is a segmental MRA -magnetic resonance angiography,- like a heart catheterization  but looking at the vasculature below the heart. 

Treatment of PAD

Treatment is similar to the heart. If the disease is in the small vessels it is better to intervene with risk factor modification and exercise. Yes it hurts to walk but paradoxically walking is the best activity to help re route the blocked blood supply. The more a person walks the more likely they will develop what is known as collateral arteries around the blockage. Other risk factor modification issues include stopping smoking, lowering cholesterol, being physically active, and keeping blood pressure in control.

If the blockage is in primary arteries of the legs or kidneys then interventions include angioplasty, stenting and/or bypassing the blockages. These are all very similar to the interventions done for atherosclerosis of the heart. Once an intervention is done  it is important to understand the issue is not fixed. Like a car it will need continual maintenance. There is high probability that is will continue to develop further blockages even if you modify all the risk factors and walk regularly.

Exercise and PAD

Many Cardiac Rehabilitation programs will also offer a PAD walking program as well. This usually involves walking on a treadmill or riding a bike 5 days per week and working your way up to a one hour walk. Most patients who experience pain while walking think that sound impossible to walk one hour. The walking program is a graduated program in which one works their way up to one hour, and usually it isn’t a fast walk, but may include walking a grade. Most patients find it quite do able once started. Many find the support given through the rehabilitation programs makes all the difference, as they wouldn’t do it on their own, and the education received while attending gives them the understanding needed to cope with this chronic condition.

 From the Vascular Disease Foundation WHY WALK?

Walking can make a real difference for people with peripheral artery disease (PAD). Recent studies show that for many people with PAD, a structured walking program is one of the best treatments for reducing leg pain or cramps (claudication) when walking. In fact, studies show that over time a structured walking program is often more effective and can work better than medicine or surgery in helping people with PAD walk longer and further without having to stop due to pain.

A regular walking program will:

  • Let you do more and stay active.
  • Reduce stress and help you relax.
  • Help you control your blood glucose, blood pressure, cholesterol, and body weight.
  • Improve muscle tone.
  • Lower your chances of having a heart attack or stroke.
  • Give you peace of mind that you are taking care of your health.

For more information visit

http://vasculardisease.org/