Peripheral arterial disease (PAD) is a condition that affects the arteries outside of the heart and brain. PAD occurs when the arteries in the legs become narrowed or blocked due to the build-up of plaque. If left untreated, patients with PAD risk developing coronary artery disease and cerebrovascular disease, which could lead to a heart attack or stroke.

One recommended treatment for PAD, Supervised Exercise Therapy (SET), involves structured exercise programs supervised by healthcare professionals. Given that one of the telltale symptoms of PAD is leg pain during physical activity, it isn’t surprising that pain and claudication are common complaints among patients undergoing SET for PAD. However, there are ways to address the pain and claudication experienced by patients participating in SET for PAD. Below, we will describe seven measures one might take to mitigate discomfort during SET.

Start slowly and gradually increase exercise intensity

One of the primary reasons for pain and claudication during SET for PAD is the overexertion of the muscles affected by poor blood inflow. Patients with PAD should start their exercise program at a slow and comfortable pace and gradually increase the intensity over time. Gradual progression allows the muscles to adapt to the increased workload and reduces the likelihood of muscle damage or soreness. Patients should work with their healthcare providers to develop a customized exercise program that considers their specific health status, age, and overall fitness level.

Utilize interval training

Interval training is a useful tool for patients with PAD who experience pain during exercise. This type of training involves alternating periods of intense exercise with periods of rest or lower-intensity activity. For example, a patient might alternate between walking at a brisk pace and walking at a slower pace or standing still. Interval training allows patients to continue exercising while minimizing the discomfort associated with prolonged periods of intense activity.

Use pain-relieving medication

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and other pain-relieving medications may be useful for patients with PAD who experience leg pain during exercise. These medications can reduce inflammation and alleviate pain, allowing patients to continue with their exercise program. Patients should consult with their healthcare providers before starting any new medication and should follow the recommended dosage and duration.

Maintain good posture and form during exercise

Proper posture and form are essential for patients with PAD who are participating in SET. Maintaining good posture and form during exercise can both reduce the strain on the affected muscles and minimize the risk of injury. Patients should work with their healthcare providers to learn proper technique and should be mindful of their posture and form throughout their exercise program.

Wear appropriate footwear

Wearing appropriate footwear is crucial for patients with PAD who are participating in SET. The right shoes can provide support and cushioning for the feet and reduce the risk of blisters, calluses, and other foot injuries. Patients should work with their healthcare provider to choose shoes that are comfortable and provide adequate support for their feet. They should also replace their shoes regularly to ensure that they remain in good condition.

Stay hydrated

Proper hydration is essential for patients with PAD who are participating in SET. Dehydration can cause muscle cramps and other discomforts, which can exacerbate pain and claudication. Patients should drink plenty of water before, during, and after their exercise program to stay properly hydrated. They should also avoid excessive salt and alcohol, which have a dehydrating effect on the body.

Consider additional treatments

In some cases, patients with PAD may require additional treatments to manage pain and claudication during SET. For example, a healthcare provider may recommend medications to improve blood flow or recommend other therapies such as massage or acupuncture. Patients should discuss these options with their healthcare provider to determine if they are appropriate for their individual needs.

This article was written by Chuck Blake, former Business Development Zone Director.

Supervised Exercise Therapy (SET) is an effective treatment for Peripheral Arterial Disease (PAD), but pain and claudication can be significant barriers to treatment. By following these tips, patients with PAD can reduce their discomfort during SET and achieve better outcomes.