By Stephanie Stahl

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Go ahead and enjoy some chocolate on Valentine’s Day. There’s new research about the potential benefits of dark chocolate for a condition that causes debilitating leg pain.

Most of the time, this condition is treated with medications — and not always successfully. Now research is showing chocolate might be an unexpected solution.

John Conner is grateful to be able to walk in the snow or anywhere.

The 62-year-old has peripheral artery disease, which leaves patients with debilitating pain, tightness and cramping in the leg muscles.

“I couldn’t walk one block without stopping, I couldn’t go up a flight of stairs,” Conner said. “I was in constant pain throughout the day.”

PAD is a narrowing of the arteries, which reduces blood flow from the heart to the legs.

Conner was among 44 PAD patients who took part in a study, looking at whether cocoa could help.

Some drank a cocoa beverage rich in flavanols, which scientists believe have hearth health benefits. Others drank a placebo.

In the end, patients who drank the cocoa were able to walk much further on a six-minute walking test.

“Those who drank the cocoa beverage had greater improvement in their skeletal muscle health,” Dr. Mary McDermott said. “They also had greater improvement in the blood flow to their legs at six-month followup.”

Researchers say the cocoa drink used in the study was made with dark chocolate, which contains more beneficial nutrients than other types.

“This cocoa beverage, which is relatively inexpensive, widely available and has virtually no side-effects, is a medical therapy that they can take,” McDermott said.

Conner continues to drink cocoa and is eating healthier.

“I wasn’t in a great deal of pain as I was before and I was more active than I was before,” Conner said.

Doctors say more research is needed before chocolate is prescribed for PAD.

Dark chocolate has a number of other health benefits, including being good for your heart and memory.

Stephanie Stahl