Peripheral arterial disease (PAD) is a condition that affects blood flow to your arms and legs. It can be painful, causing cramps and other discomfort, especially when you walk. As Houston area vein specialists, we often recommend light exercise to help people manage PAD pain. And now, a new study published in the American Journal of Physiology—Heart and Circulatory Physiology suggests that hot water therapy may be an equally effective tool for managing PAD pain. This could be great news for PAD sufferers who are not yet able to exercise!
What Causes PAD?
To understand why hot water therapy is effective against PAD, we have to explore why the condition develops. PAD sets in when fatty buildup accumulates in your arteries, leaving you with reduced blood flow to your limbs. That reduced blood flow causes PAD patients to experience muscle pain while walking (called claudication.) To manage this pain, patients are told to engage in supervised exercise, but there’s a catch: the PAD pains often make exercise too painful. That’s why this new research out of New Zealand is so exciting: they discovered that ongoing heat therapy will improve cardiovascular health in PAD patients, managing their muscle pain and making exercise a more likely possibility!
For their study, researchers followed two groups of adults with mild-to-moderate PAD pain. One group attended exercise sessions twice a week, during which they walked for up to 30 minutes on an indoor course and performed up to 60 minutes of circuit exercises. The other group engaged in three to five spa baths a week, submerging up to their shoulders in 102-degree water for 20 to 30 minutes. Before and after each session, researchers charted the participants’ walking ability, blood pressure, heart rate, blood volume, oxygen levels in muscle tissues, peripheral artery blood flow and function, and their overall quality of life.
What they found was exciting: both groups experienced improvements in their walking ability and blood pressure levels. In fact, the results for both groups were basically the same! In presenting their findings, the research team wrote: “Contrary to our hypothesis, there was no difference evident between the effects observed in heat therapy via spa bathing and a supervised exercise program. These findings indicate that heat therapy may be a useful alternative form of cardiovascular conditioning for individuals with PAD.”