Peripheral artery disease pain relieved by activity

Skip the primary navigation if you do not want to read it as the next section.

Primary navigation

Skip the main content if you do not want to read it as the next section.

Blood pressure news

Peripheral artery disease pain relieved by activity

Key points
  • Peripheral artery disease occurs when arteries in the legs become narrowed or blocked
  • This deprives the leg muscles of the oxygen and nutrients they need, causing painful cramping when walking
  • Regular exercise causes the legs to create new pathways for the blood that bypass the blockage, increasing blood flow and reducing pain

Over the age of 65, up to 20% of us will suffer from peripheral artery disease. Peripheral artery disease is caused by the arteries in the leg becoming narrowed and blocked. It produces painful cramping in the legs (known as claudication) because the leg muscles aren’t receiving enough oxygen to work properly. For some people, the pain is so bad that it severely restricts their mobility.

The main causes of peripheral artery disease are high blood pressure, diabetes and obesity (which narrow the arteries) and high cholesterol and smoking (which build up fatty deposits).

When an artery becomes blocked, the body tries to keep the blood flowing by creating another route around the blockage. It does this by widening and increasing the number of smaller blood vessels in the surrounding tissues. This is known as collateral flow.

To test whether regular exercise could help to increase collateral flow and reduce the pain of peripheral artery disease, researchers studied rats with a blocked leg artery. Some were left to a sedentary lifestyle, while others were put on a regular exercise programme.

Those rats who exercised regularly had larger and more extensive collateral blood vessels than their sedentary counterparts. And, as an additional benefit, their blood vessels that were downstream from the blockage had changed and become more efficient.

These findings have prompted the researchers to suggest that a regular exercise programme would help people with peripheral artery disease to delay the onset of pain and increase their mobility over time.


Taylor JC, Yang HT, Laughlin MH, Terjung RL. alpha-Adrenergic and neuropeptide Y Y1 receptor control of collateral circuit conductance: influence of exercise training. J Physiol 2008; 586: 5983-5998.

Topics: Lifestyle, High blood pressure

Stay in touch

BP news RSS feed

The Charity Awards 2008 Winner

The Charity Awards 2008 Winner

Lottery funded

The following page sections include static unchanging site components such as the page banner, useful links and copyright information. Return to the top of page if you want to start again.

Page Extras

EmailPage to a friend

Skip the main banner if you do not want to read it as the next section.

Page Banner

Blood Pressure UK Home page
Helping you to lower your blood pressure

End of page. You can return to the page content navigation from here.