How Keeping Your Hips Strong Might Ease Leg Pain

Peripheral artery disease may trigger leg pain, but hip exercises may ease the problem

(RxWiki News) The narrowing of arteries in the limbs — a common circulatory problem called peripheral artery disease — can often cause leg pain, but strengthening your hip muscles may bring relief.

A new study found that building up hip flexor muscles through exercise may reduce the leg pain from peripheral artery disease (PAD).

When fatty deposits build up in artery walls (atherosclerosis), PAD can develop. The limited blood flow can make legs ache. The condition can cause sores and ulcers as well. All this can make walking difficult.

Takaaki Kakihana, MSc, a physical therapist and doctoral candidate at Tohoku Graduate School of Medicine in Sendai, Japan, led this research.

“PAD patients should ask for an expert, such as a physical therapist, to evaluate their gait and the strength of their hip flexors and other muscles,” Kakihana said in a press release. “Based on the evaluation, a combination of muscle training and walking exercise may increase how far they can walk and reduce their calf pain during walking.”

Kakihana and team studied 16 patients with PAD and compared them with seven healthy patients. Patients were an average age of 71. The PAD patients had moderately blocked leg arteries and aches in one or both legs when walking.

These researchers noted that PAD patients walked abnormally. They moved more slowly, even when they tried to move quickly. Their steps were smaller.

The PAD patients also had different leg muscle movements compared to the healthy patients. They did not use their hip flexor muscles as much during the push-off phase of each step, but they did use their ankle flexor muscles for this motion.

Kakihana said this was unusual for older patients.

“Usually older people have relatively weaker ankle flexors and use their hip flexors more during the push-off phase of walking,” he said in a press release. “People with PAD use their ankle flexors more to compensate for hip muscle weakness.”

Hip flexors, located in front of the thigh, bend the knee and flex the hip. These muscles move the leg and knee up toward the body. Ankle flexors, located at the back of the calf, raise the leg with a pushing motion.

“It is unclear why the hip flexors are weak in PAD patients,” Kakihana said. “We predict that it is from disuse and blood flow restriction to the muscles.”

PAD patients may increase their walking distance and reduce calf pain during walking with exercise training for hip flexor muscles, these researchers noted. Activities that can strengthen the hip flexors include straight-leg lifts while lying on the back and keeping the other leg bent with one foot on the floor. Patients should talk to their doctors before starting any exercise program.

This study was presented May 7 at the American Heart Association’s Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis and Vascular Biology/Peripheral Vascular Disease Scientific Sessions 2015. Research presented at conferences may not have been peer-reviewed.

The Japan Society for the Promotion of Science funded this research. The authors disclosed no conflicts of interest.

Review Date: 
May 7, 2015