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Heart Disease Health Center

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Arm Exercise Relieves Leg Pain

People With Peripheral Artery Disease Walk Farther After Arm Workouts
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Nov. 14, 2006 (Chicago) -- It may sound mixed up, but arm exercises can relieve leg pain in people with peripheral artery disease (PAD), a new study suggests.

As a result, they can walk farther than if they don't have an arm workout, says researcher Diane Treat-Jacobson, PhD, an assistant professor at the University of Minnesota School of Nursing in Minneapolis.

"Particularly for PAD patients who are quite disabled, walking can be difficult," she tells WebMD. "Arm aerobics may offer a better option than traditional workouts on a treadmill."

Exercise Improves Cardiopulmonary Fitness

In people with PAD, there is poor blood flow in the arteries other than those of the heart and brain, limiting the supply of oxygen-rich blood to the muscles, particularly in the legs. The most common cause is plaque buildup. Starved for oxygen, the leg muscles cramp and begin hurting after people walk even short distances. The pain typically goes away after a few minutes of rest. In severe cases of PAD, this leg pain (called claudication) occurs at rest.

Earlier studies have shown that walking on a treadmill helps people with PAD to walk farther. "But we thought it was a local effect; exercising the muscles around the blockage allows them to use oxygen more efficiently," Treat-Jacobson says.

The new study, the first to pit treadmill training against arm aerobics, suggests that exercise has a systemic effect, improving overall cardiovascular function and fitness, she says.

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