Clogged arteries are bad for your heart–but for those who have it in their legs, commonly referred to as peripheral artery disease (PAD), it can also trigger excruciating calf pain, something that is often hard to treat.
Now new research from the Tohoku Graduate School of Medicine in Japan offers a way to alleviate it: Strengthen your hip flexor muscles.
The research was recently presented to the American Heart Association’s Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis, and Vascular Biology/Peripheral Vascular Disease Scientific Session 2015 in San Francisco.
“PAD patients should ask for an expert, such as a physical therapist, to evaluate their gait and the strength of their hip flexors and other muscles,” says Takaaki Kakihana, P.T., M.Sc., a doctoral candidate from the Tohoku Graduate School of Medicine and lead author of the study. “Based on the evaluation, a combination of muscle training and walking exercise may increase how far they can walk and reduce their calf pain during walking.”
Comparing the walking patterns of 23 people who had or did not have PAD, researchers found that those with PAD walked more slowly, took smaller steps, and often used their hip flexor muscles while starting to walk. In addition, they used their ankle flexor muscles more often, leading to pain in the calf muscles.
From here, researchers determined what could help stop these patients from overusing these muscles–and discovered that making their hip flexor muscles stronger could prevent them from overusing their ankle flexor muscles. This could help prevent the calf pain many PAD sufferers experience.
“Usually older people have relatively weaker ankle flexors and use their hip flexors more during the push-off phase of walking,” says Kakihana. “People with PAD use their ankle flexors more to compensate for hip muscle weakness. It is unclear why the hip flexors are weak in PAD patients.”
What You Should Do
Want to live a pain-free life? To keep PAD pain low, strengthening those hip flexors is a must–even for those who are already physically fit. To start, researchers recommend these exercises to keep PAD pain minimal:
- Straight-leg lifts. Lying on the ground on your back, keep one leg bent while keeping the other straight against the ground. Slowly lift the straightened leg up without bending the knee. Hold for two seconds before returning to the previous position.
- Knee lifts. Seated in a chair, raise one knee and hold it against your chest for a few seconds. Release and switch to the other knee, repeating the process.
Done properly, both exercises can help strengthen the hip flexor muscles–and prevent PAD patients from overusing their ankle flexor muscles in the process, say researchers.
Readers: Have you experienced or know someone who has experienced PAD before? If so, how do you deal with it?