A Systematic Review of Exercise Prescription in Patients with Intermittent Claudication: Does Pain Matter?

Sally, Seed, Harwood, Amy, Sinclair, Jonathan Kenneth orcid iconORCID: 0000-0002-2231-3732, Pymer, Sean, Caldow, Edward, Ingle, Lee, Anselm, Agum and Birkett, Stefan orcid iconORCID: 0000-0003-0422-6843 (2021) A Systematic Review of Exercise Prescription in Patients with Intermittent Claudication: Does Pain Matter? Annals of Vascular Surgery . ISSN 0890-5096

[thumbnail of Author Accepted Manuscript]
PDF (Author Accepted Manuscript) - Accepted Version
Available under License Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial No Derivatives.


Official URL: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.avsg.2021.06.025


Background: Current guidelines for intermittent claudication advocate exercise at moderate to maximal claudication pain. However, adherence rates to supervised exercise programmes (SEP) remain poor and claudication pain is a contributing factor. Limited evidence suggests that moderate or pain-free exercise may be just as beneficial and may be better tolerated. However, it remains unclear what ‘level’ of claudication pain is optimal for improving functional outcomes. We therefore conducted a systematic review to synthesise the evidence for exercise prescribed at different levels of claudication pain.
Methods: The CENTRAL, MEDLINE, Embase and CINAHL databases were searched up to October 2020. Randomised controlled trials (RCTs) that directly compared at least two different intensities of claudication pain were included. Outcome measures included walking performance, adherence, quality of life and vascular function.
Results: Of 1,543 search results, two studies were included. Maximal walking distance improved by 100-128% in the moderate-pain SEP groups, and by 77-90% in the pain-free SEP groups. Importantly, there were no significant differences between the moderate-pain and pain-free SEP groups in either study for improvements in walking performance, though comparison to a maximal-pain SEP group was not made.
Conclusions: The efficacy of SEPs for patients with intermittent claudication is irrefutable, though there is no consensus on the optimal level of pain. Therefore, adequately powered RCTs are required to compare the effect of pain-free SEPs, moderate-pain SEPs and maximal-pain SEPs on functional outcomes. (PROSPERO ID: CRD42020213684).

Repository Staff Only: item control page