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From Provo, Utah, USA:

I am a female, Type 1 diabetic, 37 years old, diabetic 19 of those years. When I exercise I get severe aches in the calves and ankles. When I stop the pain goes away, but the more I exercise, the more it hurts. I need to lose weight but every time I try to get serious about exercise the excruciating pain gives way to the exercise. Any suggestions?


If you are bothered by leg pains and cramps (most often in the calves) while walking or during exercise that goes away when you rest, this may be due to a brief lack of blood flow to the muscles called intermittent claudication.

Peripheral vascular disease, one of the many complication associated with diabetes, is a disease of the blood vessels in the arms, legs and feet. Many people with peripheral vascular disease typically have an aching pain in the legs when they walk called intermittent claudication. Again, this pain happens because the arteries in the legs occasionally close enough so that blood is unable to flow properly to the muscles that are being used.

Certain types of aerobic exercises (swimming, bicycling, rowing) help increase circulation of blood, but discuss this type of exercise program carefully with your physician before beginning. Interval walking is another good choice for individuals with peripheral vascular disease and can be prescribed by your doctor as a type of therapy. Here is how interval walking works: Walk until you experience pain in your legs or fatigue that forces you to stop. Record your distance. This distance is your maximum distance. The next day, walk three-quarters of the maximum distance of the day before. Rest a few minutes until the pain goes away and walk the same distance again. Walk three-quarters of your total distance three to four times each exercise session. Try to do this two times a day (once in the morning and once in the afternoon or evening). The next week test your maximum walking distance again and repeat the interval training program. Re-evaluate your walking distance every week. Over a period of time you will notice that your maximum walking distance will become longer and that your rest periods will become shorter. By doing this you will improve the blood flow to the affected area.

Remember to discuss your plan with your physician first. It is always a good idea to keep him/her aware of your exercise program.


Additional comments from Dr. Quick:

Intermittent claudication, due to peripheral vascular disease, is a disorder that is more common at an earlier age in people with diabetes. You should have an evaluation of the status of the arteries in your lower extremities to find out if the diagnosis is correct. If you do have damage there, it would also be important to check other blood vessels for atherosclerosis.


Original posting 3 Sep 1998
Posted to Exercise and Sports and Complications


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Last Updated: Tuesday April 06, 2010 15:09:00
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