Heart Beat: July 2015

Peripheral artery disease (PAD) can make walking even short distances a painful experience. PAD occurs when the smaller arteries in the legs become narrowed, reducing blood flow to muscles and tissue. Poor circulation leads to muscle pain when walking. But a new study presented at the 2015 American Heart Associations Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis and Vascular Biology/Peripheral Vascular Disease Scientific Sessions suggests that specific muscle-strengthening exercises can help ease calf pain caused by PAD. Researchers found that individuals with weakness in their hip flexor muscles rely more on their calf muscles when they walk. This puts unnecessary strain on the calf muscles, which are already compromised due to narrowed arteries. Hip flexors are located at the front of the thigh and help lift the legs by pulling up with every step. In the study, PAD patients tended to rely more on their ankle flexors, the muscles in the calves that help push off the ground with each step. When those patients participated in training to strengthen their hip flexors, many of them were able to walk farther without pain. Hip flexor exercises include straight leg lifts while lying on your back (keeping one leg bent while the raised leg is straight). You can also help strengthen the hip flexors by raising a knee toward your chest while seated. Talk with a physical therapist or cardiac rehabilitation specialist about these and other exercises you can do.
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