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Pain-Relieving Stretch for Peripheral Artery Disease

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Q

I have peripheral artery disease, and my doctor told me I need to walk around more. But just getting around at all makes my legs hurt. Is there anything I can do to make walking more comfortable? 

A

For people with peripheral artery disease (PAD), a buildup of fatty deposits in arteries that prevents sufficient blood and oxygen from reaching muscles, exercise is not just good for cardiovascular health—it can mean the difference between keeping their legs and needing amputation. That’s because exercise increases vital circulation to the limbs. There’s a catch-22, however. Having PAD can make activities such as walking, climbing stairs and just moving around so painful that many of the 8.5 million American adults who have the disease avoid exercise as much as possible.

In a small study from Florida State University College of Medicine in Tallahassee, patients with PAD who stretched their calf muscles for 30 minutes a day, five days a week for a month improved both blood flow to their calves and their walking ability. They were able to walk farther during a timed period (six minutes)…and they were able to walk for a longer distance without needing to stop and rest because of discomfort.

While it’s premature to suggest any specific stretching protocol based on just this small study, it does suggest that if you have PAD, calf stretching can help you better manage the condition. For the study, participants stretched using a special splint that flexed their ankles about 15%, pulling their toes up toward their legs. But you don’t need splints to stretch your calf muscles. A physical therapist can show you how to do it—and recommend for how long and how often you should do it.

If you have PAD and want more incentive to keep your legs in as good walking order as you can, read Bottom Line’s “For Peripheral Artery Disease, Walking Beats Surgery for Pain Relief.”

Source: Neel P. Chokshi, MD, MBA, assistant professor of clinical medicine, Perelman School of Medicine, medical director, Cardiology and Fitness Program, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia. Study presented at the American Heart Association’s Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis and Vascular Biology/Peripheral Vascular Disease 2017 Scientific Sessions. Date: August 8, 2018
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