Nearly one out of every 20 Americans over the age of 50 and one in 5 over the age of 70 suffer from peripheral artery disease, or PAD. PAD is a vascular condition caused by plaque build-up in the leg arteries. This buildup can cause the arteries to harden and impede blood flow. If left untreated, PAD can increase the risk of coronary artery disease, heart attack, stroke, or amputation.
Because it reduces the amount of blood and oxygen supplied to your muscles, PAD can cause painful symptoms such as leg pain while walking (claudication), leg pain while resting, and nerve damage. Cramping, pain, fatigue, and discomfort in the legs often lead to significant limitations in physical activities, decreasing functional capacity, mobility, and quality of life.
Treatment for PAD focuses on reducing symptoms, improving quality of life and mobility, and preventing and further progression of the disease. This is often accomplished through a combination of different treatments and lifestyle changes and may include medication and/or a procedure or surgery. However, patients suffering from PAD may also be able to take some control over their symptoms with a simple, non-invasive option for reducing pain and improving mobility that requires no special equipment or facilities.
Studied for more than 50 years, routine interval walking has been shown to prolong the time individuals can walk without experiencing leg pain, and walking may be just as effective as a stent procedure in reducing pain and improving mobility. By engaging the muscles most typically affected by PAD—including the calves, thighs, and buttocks—regular interval walking can improve circulation, reduce pain, and gradually extend the time patients can walk without experiencing pain.
The overarching goal of interval walking and a walking routine is to help patients with PAD and/or claudication manage daily walking requirements—like going to the grocery store—without pain. This is accomplished through the gradual increase in walking distance, stamina, and pain tolerance. Increased physical activity—including walking—also helps reduce the symptoms of PAD and the risk factors for heart attack, stroke, and amputation.
Most PAD patients can begin establishing a walking routine almost immediately, but there are a few things to consider to structure your interval exercise for maximum benefit.
First, be sure to warm up. Stretch calf and thigh muscles for 10 to 15 seconds on each leg.
Begin walking at a brisk pace for about 5 minutes, even if there is some pain. Walk for as long as possible until leg pain reaches about a 3 or 4 on a scale of 5, then stop.
Rest until the pain recedes, and then begin walking again, repeating the process as many times as necessary for up to 30 minutes.
Cool down by walking slowly for 5 additional minutes, then stretch your calf and thigh muscles again.
Continue this routine as regularly as possible, at least 4 days a week or more. Add a few minutes to each interval and to your overall walking session every week or so, gradually increasing the total length of time to about an hour.
The best results from a walking regimen are achieved when patients commit to walking consistently most days of the week. With regular movement, most patients experience faster, better, and more long-lasting results when walking is combined with healthy lifestyle changes, including more physical activity.
The real benefit of walking typically extends well beyond the exercise period. Establishing a lifelong habit of physical activity and healthy choices help keep PAD pain and symptoms in check and improves overall quality of life. Complete respite from walking pain may not hap
pen for several weeks or more, but slow progress does not equate to zero improvements. PAD takes many years to develop, and its symptoms will not disappear overnight. Time, patience, and diligence—such as maintaining your walking routine even when you feel discouraged—are what will ultimately improve your mobility and independence.
As with any exercise program, be sure to consult your doctor or cardiovascular specialist before beginning a walking regimen. If walking does not improve your symptoms, your doctor may recommend one or a combination of several other possible treatment options, such as medication or surgery. Lowering other risk factors, such as blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood glucose can improve your health and function in areas like walking and mobility.
At CardioVascular Health Clinic, we believe in comprehensive care plans that treat the patient and improve the overall quality of life. Focusing on gradual, sustainable lifestyle changes helps our patients live longer, healthier lives, even with PAD or claudication.
CardioVascular Health Clinic leads Oklahoma in the treatment of cardiovascular conditions like PAD. Our team of specialized physicians—which includes one of the nation’s most renowned amputation-prevention specialists—is committed to providing personalized, innovative care at all of our state-of-the-art facilities. We use only the latest in diagnostic technology and equipment to make sure we have the most complete picture before determining a treatment plan.
If you are experiencing pain while walking, or any other symptoms of PAD, call CardioVascular Health Clinic today at (405) 701-9880 or schedule an appointment. Our physicians are uniquely qualified to both diagnose and treat PAD and claudication, and you do not need a referral. You deserve to live a healthy, active life, and CardioVascular Health Clinic can help.
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