Peripheral Arterial Disease, Diabetes, Leg Circulation, and Massage (Leg Pain Series 3/3)

Peripheral arterial disease is one of the most dreaded complications of long-standing type 2 diabetes. Leg circulation in peripheral arterial disease may be restored with the help of massage.

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What Is Peripheral Arterial Disease?

Most diabetics experience peripheral arterial disease as leg cramps and leg pains that strike during the day rather than at night. The problem in this condition is that blood vessels just cannot deliver enough oxygen to the muscles to keep them from having to burn sugar anaerobically. This is the same kind of “burn” that a weightlifter experiences while lifting a heavy weight or a runner experiences while racing for a world record, but at a much lower level of activity, due to the effects of diabetes.

Peripheral Arterial Disease and Smoking

In diabetes, leg circulation is often problematic, but if there is also smoking, the severity of the condition is even worse. The single most useful thing any diabetic who smokes can do to reduce the severity of peripheral arterial disease is to stop smoking. The benefits of smoking cessation may be noticeable in just a few days. There is less pain while walking and it’s possible to walk farther without having to stop and rest because of pain.

What Doctors Usually Recommend for Peripheral Arterial Disease

The way doctors usually treatment peripheral arterial disease is by prescribing blood thinners. The blood can flow more easily through narrowed arteries to reach the lower legs.

The problem with any blood thinner, of course, is that thinner blood does not clot as well. There is greater risk of bleeding and bruising, not just in the legs, but also all over the body. Also, many of the healthy green vegetables that help diabetics manage their diets are restricted or prohibited, because they provide vitamin K, which interferes with the medications.

An Herbal Formula for Peripheral Arterial Disease?

Clinical research studies, most of them conducted in Switzerland, have found that a Tibetan formula called padma reduces pain and increases exercise capacity without thinning the blood. There is just one problem with padma. The active ingredient in the formula, an herb called aconite, or monkshood, is deadly poisonous. The US FDA stops shipments of Padma that contain the herb that makes the formula work.

Massage Is a Better Way

If you don’t want to risk either blood thinners like Coumadin and Plavix or Tibetan herbal formulas, massage may be your answer. Scientists at the University of Almería in Spain recruited type 2 diabetics who had peripheral arterial disease for a 15-week program of just once-a-week massage as a way of treating diabetic swollen legs and leg cramps caused by diabetes. They did ultrasound to measure blood flow immediately after each treatment, at the end of the program, and six months after the last massage session. Here is what they found:

  • Even once-a-week massage increased circulation increased blood flow and oxygenation.
  • The benefits of massage continued for six months even after the last massage session.
  • Massage did not put any additional burden on the heart, and it worked even without medication.

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