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HealthInfo Waitaha Canterbury

Intermittent claudication

Mamae ā-uaua waewae taratahi

Intermittent claudication is a pain that can feel like a muscle cramp (especially in the calf area). It's brought on by exercise or physical activity such as walking and is caused by poor blood flow to your muscles.

The pain should get better after resting for a few minutes. It usually affects one leg, but it can affect both.

Intermittent claudication is caused by a narrowing or blockage of your arteries due to atherosclerosis. This reduces the blood flow in your leg. It means that the extra blood needed when you exercise cannot reach your muscles. When muscles get short of blood, they start to seize up or cramp, causing tightness and pain.

If you have intermittent claudication, the arteries supplying blood to your heart and brain are also likely to have narrowing. This means you're more likely to have a heart attack or stroke. Being diagnosed with intermittent claudication is an opportunity to change your lifestyle and use other therapies to help stop this happening.

Reducing your risk of intermittent claudication

You cannot control all risk factors, but lifestyle changes can help you lower some risks. This means:

Diagnosing intermittent claudication

To diagnose intermittent claudication, your general practice team will ask you questions about your pain and about how far you can walk. They will also examine the pulses in your leg and look at the leg's skin colour and temperature.

Treating intermittent claudication

Most cases of intermittent claudication do not get worse for many years. Treatment options include walking therapy, medication and surgery.

Walking therapy

Walking therapy can be as good for intermittent claudication as surgery. As well as helping you keep active, walking helps small new blood vessels grow that improve the blood flow in your legs.

While any walking is good for your health, you need to do a specific high-intensity programme to improve intermittent claudication. This involves walking for 50 minutes, five times a week at a speed that causes pain in your legs.

There are supervised exercise programs available through a physiotherapist to help achieve this.

Taking medication

You're likely to be prescribed a statin cholesterol medicine (even if you do not have high cholesterol) and an anti-clotting medicine like low-dose aspirin or clopidogrel to help prevent blood clots from forming.

If you have high blood pressure or diabetes, it's very important to control these well. You'll be prescribed medication to control these conditions.


If your symptoms are still very bad after six months of walking therapy, you might need surgery. The options include:

Written by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Last reviewed August 2022.


Page reference: 404045

Review key: HIBLV-403653