Intermittent Claudication (Leg cramps or spasms on movement)

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Finding a good herbalist

Much of what's written in this article is entirely suitable for a person to work through themselves but, especially if things are quite bad, or you just know that you need further help, then there may be a great deal of benefit to you to go to whatever lengths necessary to find a good herbalist or truly holistic practitioner to guide you on to a safe and strong treatment program. There's a short write-up to suggest how you might go about finding such a person here

Overview

Intermittent claudication is a syndrome where there is a frequent cramping pain in the legs that comes and goes and is usually made worse by standing or walking. There is a strong association to this problem with a lack of blood flow and/or a problem with oxygenation of that blood. You may have already explored some of the conventional medicine options in terms of drugs and surgery but not everyone will want to go down those routes or may be even able to...

In my system of medicine the goal with intermittent claudication is to use natural measures to both improve the quantity of blood flow to the legs as well as improve the consistency and health of that blood. The proof of this approach is, as always, in the results and I can faithfully say that I have seen my own patients greatly improve with the use of one or more of the following strategies - I trust one or more of them will help you too!

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Improving blood flow

The first objective is to improve blood flow to the legs and the first question to ask is what is most causing it to be impaired! You will have probably already read about hardening or narrowing of the arteries in relation to intermittent claudication and no doubt this can be a leading cause but it is not the only reason blood flow is impaired and one must beware of the trap of giving a name or a reason to a problem and then stopping to look at it openly. Health conditions, like people, are complex and multi-factorial, and this is why the holistic approach gets so many excellent results when a reductionist treatment has failed - because it is willing to work on a number of levels at the same time!

Check for Pelvic Misalignment

The first thing I would personally encourage a person with intermittent claudication to assess when looking for reasons for impaired blood flow is the alignment and structure of the pelvis along with the low back. This is something you may already be able to gauge is a problem because you have a history of low back pain or pelvic organ issues (e.g. some issues with the regular functioning of your bladder or bowel) but the best way to really know how much a pelvic misalignment might be impinging on your blood vessels ability to transport blood to your legs is to get a professional assessment from a person who has dedicated their practice to this kind of work.

Typically such a person might have a training background in chiropractic or osteopathy but there are many other disciplines that may have equally well-equipped them to both diagnose and treat structural misalignments including Feldenkrais, Alexander technique, Neuromuscular therapy, Yoga practitioner and others.

More important than what someone calls themselves is their experience, their integrity and their depth of approach. The suggestions I give above in how to find a good herbalist have a lot of cross-overs in how they might help you find the right person to assess and potentially treat your spine/pelvis.

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Treat a weak circulation
With or without any hardening or narrowing of the arteries many people are prone to a poor circulation just by their constitutional nature; which is a fascinating subject in its own right and, if interested, you can delve into starting here. If you have always been prone to feeling the cold and the intermittent claudication is just the next development in a process of worsening circulation overall then I strongly suggest you start using one or more of the great circulatory tonics that have been literally used for millennia to help warm people up!

Cayenne

Top of the list of the circulatory tonics is Cayenne and this is where I will often start my own treatment program for intermittent claudication. Cayenne is a pure and actually very safe stimulant but, like any medicine, it doesn't suit everyone and there is art to both trying it out and assessing its active dose that is described in practical detail here.


Capsicum annum/minimum (Cayenne)

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Hawthorn

The next herb that I will most often use for a person with intermittent claudication is Hawthorn. This herb has been proven beyond any possible doubt to improve blood flow through the heart and to increase the strength of the heart beat - it is highly likely to help but must be taken patiently and consistently over time to see its true benefits in this regard - more info about it and how to use it here.

Prickly Ash and Bayberry

Both these herbs are very important herbs for improving the circulation in the 'physiomedicalist' system that underpins much of the herbal practice in my own tradition as it does with many other 'Western' herbalists. These aren't likely to be remedies that you would get from anyone other than a herbalist but if you can meet with and work with someone in person they may well use them to help your intermittent claudication because they can be remarkably good at improving blood flow - and quickly too! In my own practice I will typically use a tonic that combines a number of remedies together at the same time and both Bayberry (more on it here) and Prickly Ash (more here) will likely form a small part of it. I say small because they are both very potent and there is a real art to giving enough for them to palpably increase blood flow but not so much that they upset the person's system! In other words use with care.


Zanthoxylum spp (Prickly Ash)

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Improving blood quality

I do not specialise in this disorder, the reason I can write from experience about so many conditions is that I have treated all comers in a busy practice since 1989 and have gained a great deal of first-hand experience about what works! What I can say from my own practice is that everyone I have seen so far with intermittent claudication has had notably sticky blood (I analyse my patient's blood under a powerful microscope) and they have needed some amount of general cleansing and detoxification for their blood to get nice and runny.

I suppose I don't need to spell out to anyone who has intermittent claudication why it is so important that the blood is not sticky but rather very free-flowing. The lack of oxygen that causes the muscles to cramp so painfully is not helped one bit if the blood itself is sludgy, however well it may be actually flowing there!


Sticky blood and thready fibrin spicules (liver stress sign)

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In this area, in my own practice, I rely on looking at the tongue just as much as whether the plasma of the blood contains an unusually high amount of debris. The tongue is the beginning of the digestive tract and can give much insight into what is happening further down below.

Cleansing

A thick, coloured (cream to yellow) coating on the tongue may be all the evidence required to consider toxicity as a key issue for the quality of the blood. If there are other such classic 'liver signs' such as a low appetite in the morning, high sensitivity to strong smells and chemicals and unusually high level of irritability then I definitely recommend giving attention to this vital area.

Detoxification is an area that is rife with myths and misunderstandings. If you think that this is an area that needs attention in your life then start by reading this general article called 'what is detoxification' here. An approach that I have found to be consistently helpful in this area time and again is to simply use a cleansing diet along with two particularly potent herbs. The cleansing diet is written up here. The best herb I know to clean the blood through the kidneys is Juniper -- more info on it here, and the most potent herb I know to clean the blood through the liver is Celandine, more here. The simple, effective and time-honoured way I use these two great herbs together is described here.


Chelidonium majus (Celandine)

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Garlic & Ginger

Even if you may not think that there is an issue with blood quality I still recommend you use an abundant amount of Ginger and/or Garlic in your diet if you have intermittent claudication. Both of these herbs (or foods if you prefer to call them that) have properties that will improve blood quality as well as improve blood flow and circulation.

In the case of Ginger, if you want to see how much help this gnarly 'old friend' might give to your condition then I recommend at least a few days to trial a simple and quite delicious tea using fresh Ginger root that will give you enough of a dose of it for it to make a real difference - how to make it is described in the article on Ginger found here.

Likewise there are a handful of recipes that show how versatile Garlic can be for health problems in its article here but I am sure you can just regularly take it in your diet with no shadow of a doubt that it can only be of at least some help, just make sure everyone else in your household eats it too and then no-one will notice a thing!


Allium sativum (Garlic)

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Related Conditions

If, as well as the intermittent claudication, you have one or more of the following related conditions then, for the best chance of a positive result be sure to work on as much of the whole of your health as you can.

  • If you have problems with high blood pressure then read my detailed article here
  • If you have problems with arrhythmia or palpitations then read here
  • If you have problems with erectile dysfunction read here
  • If you have issues with cholesterol read here
  • If you have restless legs read here
  • If you have problems with excess fatigue then read here.

Again and especially if you do have one or more of the above related conditions then I urge you, if it is at all possible, to find a good herbalist to help you work holistically and to be sure to be getting on to the right supports from nature at the right doses (the link that suggests how you might go about that is again here). But if that is just not an option then I sincerely hope that some of the information here will have given you enough confidence to start down some natural approaches and that they do you some of the same good that I have seen them do for others in my personal care.

Constitutional Health Note

Finally, it may be of much benefit to learn your constitution to help know a lot more about what kinds of foods, herbs, exercises etc. will be good for your general health as well as your heart and circulation. Constitutional health is an old and fascinating way of understanding our differences and there is a brief introduction to this subject here and a more detailed section on working out which constitution you are here.

Please understand that I cannot personally advise you without seeing you in my clinic.
This living 'book' is my labour of love so, wherever you are, I wish you peace & good health!

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© 2011 R.J.Whelan Ltd