Peripheral artery disease (PAD) is a painful circulatory issue that affects leg mobility (1). It affects about 220 million people worldwide (2). Early diagnosis and supervised physical therapy or exercise can help improve leg mobility, reduce the risk of progressing into disability, and prevent cardiovascular events (3). Read on to know which exercises to do and avoid if you have peripheral artery disease. Scroll down!
In This Article
What Is Peripheral Artery Disease?
Peripheral artery disease (PAD) is caused by plaque buildup in the arteries, restricting blood flow to the lower extremities. Reduced blood flow causes leg pain or intermittent claudication (limping) and walking difficulties and hampers day-to-day tasks (1). PAD can gradually decrease leg mobility, increase the risk of heart disease, and may need surgery in extreme cases. That is why you should be careful and look out for signs and symptoms for proper diagnosis. Scroll down to read more about PAD.
Symptoms, Causes, And Diagnosis
- Leg pain, cramps, and aches
- Muscle weakness
- Skin cold to touch
- Smooth and shiny skin
- Hair loss
Note: Asymptomatic PAD does not cause leg pain.
The above symptoms may or may not indicate peripheral artery disease. Conditions (like arthritis) or vein-related issues may also cause leg pain. However, the following risk factors increase the chances of developing PAD (1):
- Age above 60
- High cholesterol
- High blood pressure
- Atherosclerosis (arterial plaques)
If you have more than one of the risk factors listed above, you must get a formal diagnosis. Here’s how your doctor will do the diagnostic test for PAD.
The doctor will perform an ankle-brachial index (ABI) test. It is a non-invasive test to compare the blood pressure in your ankles and arms at rest and after exercise. The doctor may also perform other tests like ultrasound, magnetic resonance angiography, and computed tomographic angiography to confirm PAD (3).
Depending on your disease progression, the doctor will recommend supervised physical exercise and medications to manage the symptoms of peripheral artery disease. Scroll down to check out the best exercises for PAD.
7 Best Exercises For PAD
PAD commonly affects the legs. Therefore, it becomes difficult to walk long distances. However, several uncontrolled trials indicated the clinical efficacy of exercise therapy in increasing pain-free walking distance by 180% (3). It also improves cardiorespiratory fitness and the quality of life of people with peripheral artery disease (4).
Exercising for 30 minutes, 3-4 times a week, can improve PAD symptoms to a great extent. Below, you will find a list of safe exercises you can do under a supervisor or in a group physical therapy class for PAD (5).
Note: Follow the claudication pain scale while exercising. Stop and rest when your pain is at level 3. Resume exercising once the pain subsides.
|Claudication Pain Scale|
|4||Unbearable Pain (Stop exercising)|
1. Intermittent Walking
You can do this outdoors or on a treadmill. Start with short distances. If possible, choose a path that has low-rise inclines intermittently. When walking on the treadmill, take your hand off the sidebars.
2. Toe Walking
Walk on the balls and toes of your feet on a flat surface. If you are at home, do this exercise near a wall for support. If in group therapy, place chairs in a circle and walk around. This exercise involves the muscles in the calves and feet and increases blood flow.
3. Assisted Standing Calf Raises
Stand behind a chair and hold the backrest or a walking bar for support. Raise your heels and lower them. Do this until you experience discomfort. Rest for a while and do a few more reps.
Step-ups are great for improving mobility, balance, and lower body coordination. To do this exercise, use a staircase at your home or the steps provided at the group therapy. Move up a step with your right leg and come down with your right leg. Do this 10 times before repeating the same with the other leg.
5. Chair Sit-Stand-Heel-Raises Exercise
This exercise improves knee mobility and balance, strengthens the calf muscles, and improves coordination. Do it under the supervision of an expert. Start by sitting on a chair. Stand up, do a calf raise, lower your heels, and sit down on the chair. Repeat the movements.
6. Reverse Lunges
Reverse lunges target the glutes, thighs, and calves. Place your hand on the wall for support, stand straight, with your legs shoulder-width apart. Take a step back with your right leg. Bend both knees and lower your body until your thighs and calves are perpendicular to each other. Pause for a moment and get up. Repeat with your left leg. Stop and rest if you experience discomfort.
7. Chair Leg Raises
Chair leg raises are great for improving blood flow from the hips to the toes. Sit on a chair with feet flat on the floor. Lift your right leg off the floor and extend it. Hold it for 5 seconds and gently lower it. Repeat with the left leg. Stop and rest if you experience discomfort.
While regular physical activity is beneficial for people with PAD, choose activities that do not overwork your heart. Here is a list of exercises you should avoid.
Exercises To Avoid
- Rope jumping
- High-intensity exercises
Note: You may use therapy bands to include resistance exercise in your routine if your physical therapist recommends it. Otherwise, stick to the 7 exercises mentioned in the previous section.
Peripheral artery disease or peripheral vascular disease requires immediate attention and treatment. If you recognize the symptoms, consult a doctor, and go for the tests for an early diagnosis. Start your treatment along with physical exercise and quit habits like smoking. Gradually, you will start to make progress and walk freely without pain like you always used to!
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- Peripheral Arterial Disease
- Evidence-Based Medical Management of Peripheral Artery Disease
- Exercise Rehabilitation in Peripheral Artery Disease: Functional Impact and Mechanisms of Benefits
- Exercise training for management of peripheral arterial disease: a systematic review and meta-analysis
- Prevention and Treatment of PAD