Ask Mr. Pedometer and Friends…

August 1, 2018


Q: Mr. Pedometer, I know that you always encourage us to walk, but even at a slow pace, I find that walking makes my legs hurt. Any suggestions?

A: Doctors usually recommend walking because it is easy, convenient, and free – except, perhaps, for the cost of a comfortable pair of shoes. However, walking can become painful for some of us, usually due to age and/or arthritis. Other possible factors were outlined in a recent newsletter from Harvard Medical School. These include the following four:

  • PERIPHERAL ARTERY DISEASE – Arteries that supply blood to the leg muscles can become narrowed by a build-up of plaque or even blood clots, causing working muscles to become “starved” for oxygen. According to the newsletter, “The pain tends to come on with walking, gets worse until the person stops walking, and then goes away with rest.” Other symptoms include “scratches or bruises in the lower leg that won’t heal and pale and cool skin.” The bad news is that “people with peripheral artery disease are six to seven times more likely to have a heart attack, stroke, or transient ischemic attack than people without it.” Check with your doctor, who may prescribe walk-rest sessions of about 30 minutes several days a week.


  • CHRONIC VENOUS INSUFFICIENCY – This is a poor circulation condition involving the veins and the blood’s “return trip back to the heart and lungs.” If the tiny valves inside the veins are damaged, “blood tends to pool in the legs and feet, instead of traveling ‘north’ to the heart. It’s often a vicious cycle: If the valves aren’t working, pressure from blood collecting in the veins increases, so the veins stretch out. As a result, the valves don’t close properly, so even more blood flows backward, adding pressure.” Legs may feel achy or heavy. Other symptoms can include swelling or “ulcerated, open wounds on the bony ‘bumps’ of the ankle.” To offset these symptoms, lie on your back and elevate your legs. Compression stockings also may help. “If you’re sitting for long periods, pointing your toes up Woman walking with back painand down several times can flex the vein-pumping muscles.”


  • LUMBAR SPINAL STENOSIS – “Vertebrae, disks, and other parts of the spine impinge on the spinal cord and nerves branching off of it…When spinal stenosis occurs in the lumbar region, lower back pain can be a symptom, but it’s often the legs that are affected…cramping tightness that increases with walking…One important clue is whether the pain eases when the back is curved forward, or flexed. That posture tends to take the pressure off of the lumbar region, and it’s the reason some people with lumbar spinal stenosis find it easier to walk when leaning on a grocery cart or a walker.” Physical therapy may help, and surgery is another option.


  • DIABETIC NEUROPATHY – “People with diabetes are prone to nerve damage, or neuropathy. Exactly why is uncertain…Diabetic neuropathy affects the upper and lower legs in different ways. In the upper leg, the pain from ischemic nerves can come on suddenly and be felt in just one leg. In the lower legs and feet, where it is more common, the symptoms are typically numbness or tingling, and are usually felt about equally in both legs…(It) can make walking more difficult, but symptoms may improve with exercise.”


As you can see, leg pain from walking can be a serious symptom. Lack of mobility can lead to even more problems. Check with your doctor if the symptoms continue so that you can find ways to recover the pleasure of walking, pain-free.