Background: Conservative management is advocated as a treatment of choice for patients with intermittent claudication. This is a review of the mechanisms behind the improvement following an exercise rehabilitation programme.
Methods: All Medline articles from the National Library of Medicine, USA containing the text words 'claudication' or 'peripheral vascular disease' and 'exercise' were reviewed. Cross-referencing from relevant articles was carried out.
Results and conclusion: The poor physical status of a patient with intermittent claudication is not solely due to a reduction in blood flow to the lower limbs; associated factors, such as metabolic inefficiency, poor cardiorespiratory reserve and exercise-induced inflammation contribute. An exercise programme frequently improves both the physical aspect and quality of life, and the success of such exercise is multifactorial. An increase in the blood flow to the lower extremity is uncommon. Other factors, such as a redistribution of blood flow, changes in oxidative capacity of the skeletal muscles and greater utilization of oxygen, occur and the associated metabolic dysfunction of the skeletal muscles is rectified. Following exercise training, blood rheology improves and exercise-induced inflammation is ameliorated; cardiorespiratory status also benefits and the oxygen cost of exercise decreases.