Are you bothered with your calves cramping while walking or stair climbing…especially if the pain ceases when you stop….it may be due to peripheral artery disease (PAD).  With PAD, the arteries are narrowed due to plaque buildup, which prevents the muscles(usually in the legs) from getting enough blood flow to keep up with the increased oxygen demand when you are active.  

If PAD goes untreated, the condition can lead to infection, loss of function of the limb and in severe cases of blockage, amputation. 

People who have this circulatory problem, with pain while walking are often prescribed walking to relieve their pain.  Even though it hurts,walking…when done to according to certain guidelines does improve the symptoms of PAD and slow its progression.  According to research published in Circulation exercise works as well as any medication or surgery.

Why is walking so great??? When you repeatedly put one foot in front of the other, it brings more oxygen to your muscles, which improves your circulation and eases the pain of PAD.  The exact reasons why walking helps are not known. But it is well established that the more you walk, the further you will be able to walk with less pain.

If you suspect you have PAD, but have not been diagnosed, it is important to see you physician for an evaluation.  This should include an ankle-brachial exam, according to Neel Chokshi, MD, MBA , assistant professor of clinical medicine at Perelman School of Medicine, Univ of Pennsylvania. It compares the blood pressure in your arms to that in your feet, to show how well the blood is flowing, and possibly other tests such as an ultrasound.  There maybe other related factors, such as high blood pressure, that needs to be addressed.

 Peripheral Artery Disease  (PAD) Exercises

To get the best results from a walking program initiate a strengthening and lengthening (stretching) program. Stretching/lengthening :Refer to “walking for the health of it” for stretching exercises: @

Walking  Start by walking for 5 minutes at a pace where you have minimal pain level 3/5.After 5 minutes stop and rest, doing mild stretching until pain goes lower.  

Repeat the walk 5 minutes Stop and stretch Hip Abduction stretching refer to 

“golf exercises”  After pain subsides 

Repeat 5 min walk, If pain does not go lower try walking at a slower pace. If pain remains high cease walking  and initiate Strengthening Exercises:  Refer to “knee exercises”

Gradually increase walking  after 2 weeks to 6 minutes and continue the previous program.  Attempt to increase the walking time every 2 weeks to 10 to 15 minutes minutes each episode or 30 to 45 minutes. total time, continuing with stretching prior to walking and after. Along with the strengtening exercises after walking .

An Alternative . If any walking is too painful, don’t give up.  Research shows  you can get comparable results with arm exercises. 

A study @ University of Minnesota had participants assigned to arm exercises using an arm ergometer.  After 3 months the particpants were able to walk farther with reduced pain. 

Alternative to walking:  Bike riding, dancing, swimming or pool walking off the 

bottom  with noodles under the arms may also help to relieve symptoms.  No known research to date  Use the same protocol with time and sessions as the walking program above.