Left Leg Pain

How PAD Causes Left Leg Pain

            Halfway through your daily walk, you feel it in your left leg; pain that is accompanied by a tight, heavy sensation.  The only relief is gained by resting the legs.  It is very possible that you are suffering from PAD, peripheral artery disease; a disorder that effects millions of people in the United States.

            Peripheral artery disease occurs when arteries that run through the legs become blocked.  The blockage prevents sufficient blood and oxygen from reaching all of the areas in the leg, which in turn causes the leg muscles to cramp.  The contractions of the cramping muscles creates great discomfort; in many people accelerating from discomfort to pain.  When the muscles are rested, they require less blood; the cramps lessen and finally cease until the muscles are called into action once again.  The pain can be felt in one or both legs, and could eventually spread to the feet, with slow healing sores developing.

            The human heart is an amazing organ; automatically anticipating and pumping adequate amounts of blood and oxygen to the areas of the body where they are needed.  The aorta serves as the main transportation route of these essential elements from the heart; branching out just above the groin to divert the blood and oxygen to the two femoral arteries; one that traverse down the right leg and one down the left leg.  Pain occurs when these, and other smaller outreaching arteries, become clogged and muscles further down the human road of the leg begin to suffer.

            Arteries are usually a network of smooth tubes, through which blood continually flows throughout the body.  In the arteries of the legs belonging to people with peripheral artery disease, however, that slick open interior of the arteries becomes bumpy with plaque that has randomly built up on the walls.  Composed of calcium, cholesterol and fibrous tissues, plaque is a dangerous substance.  This plaque continues to build, forming a barrier to the flow of blood.  At first, the flow is only slowed; eventually, the decrease in flow dwindles to only minute amounts being allowed through.  The blockage creates a hardening of the arteries in a process called atherosclerosis. When the hardening occurs in the legs, it could very well be occurring in the arteries leading to the heart as well; a precursor to serious heart disease.

            Peripheral artery disease can occur in anyone, but is found most in people over 50 years of age.  Increasing age means increased risk for the disease, with men accounting for a larger percentage of victims than women.  It has been reported that one out of every 3 individuals 70 years of age and older has peripheral artery disease.  Advancing age is not the only cause of PAD, however.  Other causes are:

            This disease can be treated, especially with early detection.  Medications to lower cholesterol levels or blood pressure may be prescribed, as well as those which reduce the clotting of blood.   In more advanced cases, angioplasty, stenting or bypass surgery may be required.  In rare and extreme cases that have gone untreated and resulted in gangrene of the feet due to lack of blood and oxygen, amputation may be needed.  Advising your doctor of any unusual sensations in the left leg, pain or discomfort, can avert such drastic measures through early treatment.

            The good news is that PAD is preventable.  Taking steps now to lower cholesterol, blood pressure and body weight, stopping smoking, eating healthy and getting adequate exercise can keep your arteries clean.  These simple steps can keep your legs healthy and keep you walking strong for many years to come.