Stretching before walking could reduce pain in peripheral artery disease patients

To help treat patients with peripheral artery disease (PAD), physicians could suggest regularly stretching their calf muscles before walking, according to new data from Florida State University.

The study, which was presented May 5 at the American Heart Association (AHA)'s Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis and Vascular Biology/Peripheral Vascular Disease 2017 Scientific Sessions, followed 13 participants who stretched daily for a month.

“This is a very safe, easy intervention that can be done at home and has the potential to really improve your tolerance for walking and get you into a walking program,” said Judy M. Muller-Delp, PhD, the study’s lead author and a professor of biomedical sciences at the Florida State’s College of Medicine in Tallahassee, Florida, in an AHA press release.

Most of the participants were taking statin or antiplatelet medications before the study started. Every day, participants were instructed to stretch their calf muscle in 30-minute sessions using a splint that flexed the ankle. Over the month, researchers tested the participants’ walking ability and blood flow.

Results showed an improvement in their leg circulation and in the distance they could walk in six minutes, which was about a half a city block farther than when they started. Stretching also prolonged the distance they could walk before experiencing leg discomfort that resulted them in needing to stop, the study showed.

“A physical therapist can instruct you how to adjust and wear the splints correctly so you can do the stretches at home,” said Kazuki Hotta, PhD, a researcher on the study and a postdoctoral fellow in engineering science at the University of Electro-Communications in Tokyo. “There is no doubt about the benefit of exercise training on blood vessel health in PAD patients.”