Background: Endurance athletes often have restrictions in flow in their iliac arteries during exercise. Such restrictions have previously been ascribed solely to intravascular lesions. We postulate that flow could also be restricted by functional kinking in the arteries, and that surgical release of these kinks might be an effective treatment.
Methods: We prospectively studied 80 endurance athletes who had complaints suggestive of flow restriction in the iliac arteries of one (n=74) or both (6) legs (total 92 legs). Using vascular diagnostic tools, we examined athletes while they were doing activities that often provoke flow restrictions. Restrictions were determined by measurement of systolic pressure in the ankle after exercise; peak systolic velocities were measured with echo-doppler. Kinks were detected with echo-doppler and magnetic-resonance angiography. When functional kinking was diagnosed as the cause of the restriction, the athlete was offered surgery to release the iliac arteries, as part of our prospective study.
Findings: We recorded flow restrictions in the iliac arteries of 58 of 92 (63%) legs. In 40 of these legs (69%), kinks were the most important cause of the restriction, making these legs suitable for surgical release. We operated on 23 of 58 (40%) legs. All athletes who had an operation subjectively improved. Maximum workload in a cycling test and ankle pressure significantly improved after the operation. 20 (87%) athletes were able to successfully return to their desired high level of competition.
Interpretation: Our sports-specific protocol is effective in detecting kinking of the iliac arteries as a cause for flow restriction in athletes who have few intravascular abnormalities when investigated with conventional vascular diagnostic tools. Surgical treatment directed at the kinking was less invasive and therefore a better alternative to vascular reconstruction in these athletes.