Peripheral Artery Disease

Supervised Exercise Program

Toronto Physiotherapy offers a supervised exercise program to help treat peripheral artery disease. Based on St. Michael’s Hospital’s recommended guidelines, and the latest research in non-invasive treatment, our program is designed to help reduce the symptoms and prevent long-term complications.

Our supervised exercise program is tailored to meet your individual needs. The program consists of in-clinic sessions that combine a functional assessment, treadmill-based exercise therapy (which may include our body-weight supported AlterG “Anti-Gravity” Treadmill), home exercise program development, and education.

With our special expertise in vascular conditions including also lymphedema, venous insufficiency, and non-specific swelling, Toronto Physiotherapy is an ideal rehabilitation provider for patients with peripheral artery disease. Toronto Physiotherapy’s modern and inviting clinics are conveniently located near Subway Stations, at Danforth & Chester, and Yonge & St. Clair.

Our services may be covered under employee extended health insurance benefits. Our receipts also qualify as a tax deductible medical expense on your tax return.

A couple walking in the snow

What is Peripheral Artery Disease?

Peripheral artery disease (also called “peripheral arterial disease”) is a common vascular condition caused by an obstruction in the arteries resulting in reduced blood flow to the limbs. While this obstruction could arise due to local inflammation, injury or radiation exposure, it is most typically associated with atherosclerosis – a narrowing of the arteries due to a build-up of plaque (fatty deposits). People suffering from the disease may experience leg pain and other symptoms that may cause them to withdraw from physical activity. Left untreated, peripheral artery disease can lead to serious health complications.

What are the Risk Factors for Peripheral Artery Disease?

Risk factors for developing peripheral arterial disease include:

  • Smoking
  • Diabetes
  • Hypertension (high blood pressure)
  • Obesity
  • High cholesterol levels
  • High homocysteine levels
  • Family history
  • Age and gender

What are the Symptoms of Peripheral Artery Disease?

While the majority of individuals with peripheral arterial disease exhibit no symptoms, the most common symptom experienced is muscle pain while walking, also known as “intermittent claudication”. While intermittent claudication will subside while standing still or sitting, alternative causes of muscle pain such as nerve impingement do not typically subside when walking ends, and may actually increase with prolonged periods of sitting or standing.

Symptoms can include:

  • Pain or cramping in the calf, thigh, or hip while walking or climbing stairs
  • Weak or absent pulse in your legs or feet
  • Weakness, numbness, or coldness in one leg or foot compared to the other
  • Colour changes, delayed healing, hair loss, or other visual anomalies in one leg or foot compared to the other

For advanced cases pain may be present while resting (ischemic rest pain).

Consult a doctor if you are experiencing any of the above symptoms.

What are the Complications of Peripheral Artery Disease?

The biggest concern with peripheral artery disease is an increased risk of death due to atherosclerosis complications leading to heart attack or stroke. Secondary to these concerns, advanced stages of the disease can lead to complications arising from inadequate perfusion of blood in the affected limb, namely: ulceration, gangrene and in rare cases major amputation.

How is Peripheral Artery Disease Treated?

Peripheral artery disease can be treated to prevent long-term atherosclerosis complications and to reduce the severity of the symptoms. It is typically treated using a three-pronged approach:

  1. A professionally supervised exercise rehabilitation program.
  2. Pharmacological interventions to address any underlying atherosclerosis including medications to lower blood pressure and cholesterol, and to prevent clotting.
  3. Lifestyle modifications including weight loss, smoking cessation.

Supervised exercise rehabilitation programs for peripheral artery disease consist primarily of treadmill-based exercise interspersed with rest intervals that build up exercise tolerance before pain. Among other benefits, a claudication exercise rehabilitation program helps condition your muscles to use oxygen more efficiently. According to the American Heart Association, attending treadmill exercise programs three times per week, for a period of four to eight weeks is effective for decreasing symptoms.

Self-Help Resources

Visit the peripheral artery disease section of our Rehab Science Blog to read the latest news and research, to ask a question, or to join the conversation!