Walking & PAD

For patients with peripheral arterial disease (PAD) something as simple as walking can be difficult. The buildup of plaque in the arteries of the legs may prevent the delivery of oxygen and nutrients to the working muscles of the legs when active and when advanced, at rest.

Ironically, walking can be beneficial for patients with PAD. The muscles learn how to work more efficiently, and function better with the blood supply they receive, thereby increasing the distance walked until the development of symptoms. A walking program or PAD rehabilitation may be recommended to improve muscle strength, function, and balance. This may also stimulate recruitment of collateral circulation and improve symptoms.

Sometimes, your physician may put you on a walking program (usually for at least three months) to see if your symptoms improve. Before starting a walking program, speak with your doctor—especially if you have ulcers or sores on your feet.

Optimizing for Walking Success

  • Always check with your health care provider before starting an exercise program, especially if you have foot sores, neuropathy, recent surgery or other health concerns.
  • Begin walking at a comfortable pace. Walk until you feel your symptoms are at a moderate intensity.
  • Once you have reached your stopping point, stop and rest until the symptoms are resolved.
  • After your leg muscles have recovered, begin the walk/rest cycle again and repeat for at least 30 minutes (to be effective, you need to walk consistently so aim for 30 minutes at least five times a week).
  • After you have completed your training session, you can end it by doing three sets of leg stretches: the quadriceps (front of leg), the hamstring (back of leg), and the calf.
  • When you are able to walk more than 5 minutes before experiencing symptoms, you can start to increase your speed.

You should begin to see results, walking further and resting less, after 6-12 weeks of following a regular walking program. Studies have shown formal, supervised exercise programs are most beneficial with more pronounced results. Many hospitals are now offering PAD rehabilitation, with a structure similar to cardiac rehabilitation. However, insurance coverage may be limited for these programs so you should check with your provider first.

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Symptoms of PAD include pain or numbness, difficulty walking, sores on the feet or legs, and erectile dysfunction.

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