Peripheral arterial disease (PAD) is a condition where the arterial blood of the arms and legs is obstructed. The legs are most commonly affected. PAD occurs when plaque builds up inside the arteries. Over time, plaque hardens and results in severely restricted blood flow within the legs, causing pain when walking. Studies have shown that a form of non-invasive treatment, such as supervised exercise therapy, can help people with PAD walk farther with less pain.[1]

The most common system of PAD is “claudication,” which results from poor leg circulation and causes cramping, fatigue, heaviness, pain, or discomfort in the legs and buttocks. Claudication can often decrease the walking distance and negatively affect the ability to function at home and work.[2] What are the symptoms of PAD?

• Leg or foot wounds that are slow to heal

• Unexplained leg pain or cramping, especially during exercise or walking

• Skin problems or discoloration on legs and feet, and poor nail growth

People with PAD have reduced walking endurance and are more likely to be unable to walk for 6 minutes without stopping to rest compared to people without PAD. Studies have shown that people who exercise can nearly double the distance they can walk before they start to feel leg pain.   

PAD is usually treated by managing risk factors with lifestyle changes that include quitting smoking, controlling diabetes, controlling blood pressure, and losing weight. Exercise programs, if followed faithfully can help improve the symptoms of PAD.  Consult with a healthcare provider before starting an exercise regimen.


[1] Hamburg, N. M., & Balady, G. J. (2011). Exercise rehabilitation in peripheral artery disease: functional impact and mechanisms of benefits. Circulation123(1), 87–97. https://doi.org/10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.109.881888

[2] American Heart Association: A Clinician’s Guide Helping Your Patients with Peripheral Artery Disease (PAD),  http://www.ksw-gtg.com/ahapad/guide/pdfs/PVDvsPAD.pdf.

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