What is exercise therapy for PAD?
Exercise therapy is a treatment for peripheral artery disease that uses supervised exercise to strengthen your leg muscles and improve walking ability. Exercise therapy can relieve the symptoms of PAD in the legs, such as pain during walking that goes away with rest ( intermittent claudication). Women who participate in an exercise program are able to walk further without pain and are better able to perform daily tasks.
Exercise training improves PAD symptoms without the risks of surgery or other procedures to treat PAD. It is also a component of rehabilitation for women who have already had a procedure to restore blood flow to the legs, such as angioplasty and stenting or lower extremity bypass surgery.
If you have been diagnosed with PAD that is causing symptoms, exercise training will be a key part of your PAD treatment plan.
How does exercise help women with PAD?
Women with PAD tend to walk less to avoid leg pain, often without realizing how much their symptoms are changing their daily routine. This can begin a destructive cycle: the less you walk, the more your leg muscles waste away ( atrophy), weakening them and making it even more difficult to walk without pain. Over time, this leads to worsening disability and a greater reliance on others to help with daily tasks. Supervised exercise training helps you break the cycle by gradually building up leg strength and improving walking ability. This reduces the impact of your PAD symptoms and helps you retain your independence.
Exercise training can also correct other harmful changes women adopt as a response to PAD symptoms. Women with PAD unconsciously change their style of walking to favor stability over speed. This makes walking less efficient, meaning the muscles need more oxygen to go a given distance.1 By strengthening your leg muscles, helping them make better use of energy, and adjusting the way that you walk (your gait) exercise training encourages a healthier walking style that makes the most of your current walking ability.
Exercise training can also improve blood flow in your legs and may even reduce inflammation (the body's response to injury) that contributes to atherosclerosis, the gradual narrowing of the arteries that causes PAD.2
Who should participate in an exercise training program?
All women with PAD in the legs who have leg pain that occurs during activity and is relieved by rest (intermittent claudication) should participate in a supervised exercise program. In many cases, exercise training is the first treatment your doctor will prescribe to control your PAD symptoms. You may benefit from exercise training even if you don't have PAD symptoms yet.
While some women can successfully manage their PAD with only exercise training and sometimes drugs to treat leg pain, others will need more invasive treatments to restore blood flow to blocked leg arteries. Women who have undergone a procedure to treat PAD, such as angioplasty and stenting or peripheral bypass surgery, may also benefit from a supervised exercise training program as part of their rehabilitation.3