Many of our patients appear in the clinic with complaints about walking— sore legs, swollen ankles, numbness. This is a vicious cycle. If it hurts to walk, you walk less. The result is that the condition worsens.
In the past, we’ve talked about Peripheral Arterial Disease, or PAD, which is the medical name for blocked arteries in the lower legs and feet. Patients with diabetes are especially vulnerable to PAD— and the situation is more dangerous for them because many diabetic patients can’t feel pain. There could be ulcers forming on the feet and the patient would not be aware of it.
We try to diagnose and treat PAD as aggressively as possible to avoid the worst-case scenario, which is amputation of a foot or even a leg.
New studies show that the best treatment for PAD is walking. Even a few minutes’ walk each day gradually results in new blood flow to the lower extremities. In the long run, this will reduce swelling and pain. It will also help heal muscles and nerves that have been starved of nutrients because of poor circulation.
PAD is a sneaky killer. People continue the lifestyle they’ve followed for most of their life— eating a bit too much, smoking cigarettes, exercising less and less as the years go by. Suddenly they find they are diabetic and overweight and barely able to walk a block. Then the trouble begins.
A patient we’ll call Ed had gained a few pounds over the years. After he retired, he spent most days in his den at the computer, managing his portfolio. He wasn’t diagnosed with diabetes until his wife nagged him to come to our clinic in DeSoto for a check-up. (We also have clinics in Dallas and Sunnyville.) There we found that his legs were already showing the damage of diabetes and poor circulation. As is typical, Ed’s response was to walk less. We explained to him that the best thing for him at this point was to walk the dog every night and every morning. His wife had taken over the duties, but she was doing Ed no favor.
Research shows that patients with PAD are at greater risk of heart disease and stroke. Patients with a higher blood-pressure reading in the ankle compared with the arm have double the risk of dying within 10 years. Even patients with no cardiovascular symptoms (showing heart disease) have a higher mortality rate if they have poor blood circulation in the legs and feet.
Self-treating PAD With Exercise
« But Doctor, » my patients protest, « How can I walk? I can barely stand up for five minutes. »
It is a challenge. We understand. That’s why we recommend starting slowly. Walk down your driveway. Walk on a treadmill. Walk at the mall. If it hurts, sit down and rest. Then get up and walk a little more. Keep thinking: I’m walking my way to a longer life.
You don’t need to go out and adopt a dog to walk with you. Find a friend. If there is a swimming pool in your area (YMCA or public school), join a water-aerobics class. Or just walk in the water.
We hope you are already following our other recommendations.
- Watch your blood pressure.
- Follow a healthy diet
- Take any medications we’ve prescribed to control cholesterol or blood pressure
Our clinics in Sunnyvale, Dallas and DeSoto see many patients with various stages of PAD. We see people who are at the very beginning, and don’t even recognize the problem. At the other extreme is the grandmother who recently had her left leg amputated above the knee.
No doubt, PAD is an insidious, sneaky killer. But we do have the tools and the know-how to control this disease. All it takes is desire and commitment— to walk your way to a healthier, longer life.