The People's Perspective on Medicine

Will Soaking in a Hot Tub Ease Your PAD Pain?

People with peripheral artery disease (PAD) may find it painful to walk, although exercise is the go-to treatment. Soaking in a hot tub works as well.

Just as plaque can clog the arteries leading to the heart to cause coronary artery disease (CAD), it can also narrow arteries in legs, arms and elsewhere in the body. Doctors term this peripheral artery disease (PAD).

How Can You Manage PAD?

People with peripheral artery disease experience pain while walking. This is due to reduced blood flow to the muscles. Doctors often prescribe regular exercise as a treatment, but people may find that painful and consequently difficult to accomplish. It’s hard to convince yourself that you are addressing your pain if what you are doing hurts.

Could Heat Help Ease the Pain?

Heat dilates blood vessels, which could improve circulation. A new study compared two supervised exercise sessions a week to half-hour hot water soaks three to five times weekly (American Journal of Physiology-Heart and Circulatory Physiology, June 5, 2019). There were eleven people in each group, and they followed their regimens for three months. 

People in both groups were able to walk farther in six minutes at the end of the study. They also could take more steps without pain. Spa bathing was just as effective as exercise for improving walking ability. Both groups lowered their blood pressure, but systolic pressure (the upper number) dropped significantly more among the hot tub group.

Other Ways to Manage PAD:

Doctors sometimes prescribe pentoxyfilline (Trental) to treat the pain of peripheral artery disease. That is not the only approach that can be helpful, however. Previous research has found that people who eat lots of vegetables are less prone to blockage in their peripheral arteries. This means that those who follow a DASH diet or a Mediterranean diet have an advantage. If you would like advice on how to follow such a diet, you may wish to consult our book, The People’s Pharmacy Quick & Handy Home Remedies.

One word of caution: people with peripheral artery disease may also have blockage in their coronary arteries. We would consider it prudent for anyone with CAD to check with cardiologist before beginning hot-tub therapy, just to make sure it is safe for you.

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies. .
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Citations
  • Akerman AP et al, "Heat therapy vs. supervised exercise therapy for peripheral artery disease: A 12-week randomized, controlled trial." American Journal of Physiology-Heart and Circulatory Physiology, June 5, 2019. https://doi.org/10.1152/ajpheart.00151.2019
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