Intermittent claudication is both frequent and disabling. Conservative treatment consists of the elimination of risk factors, particularly smoking, drug treatment, and physical exercises. This review represents an attempt to define how effectively exercise prolongs the walking ability of claudicants.
A computerized literature search was done to identify all controlled trials on the subject. In addition, other studies were admitted if they were in accordance with certain quality criteria.
Without exception, these studies showed that exercise can prolong the pain-free walking distance of claudicants. Even though this message seems uniform and convincing, one should point out that all trials are burdened with methodological flaws. The variability of increase in walking ability demonstrated in these studies is impressive and cannot be fully explained. A multitude of possible mechanisms could be involved in bringing about the clinical effect; at present it is impossible to define their relative importance.
The optimal exercise program should be supervised, performed regularly for at least 2 months, and of high intensity. Appropriate steps to guarantee patients' compliance must be taken. Even though many fundamental questions remain unanswered, it is justified to prescribe exercise therapy for intermittent claudication more generally than is realized in today's practice.(Arch Intern Med. 1993;153:2357-2360)