by Steven Kavros, DPM
Intermittent pneumatic compression (IPC) of the lower limb is a well-documented method of arterial leg inflow enhancement in patients with peripheral arterial disease (PAD). The mechanism of action parallels the natural muscular contraction of the leg stimulating blood flow. There are three very short compression cycle per minute inflating a cuff encompassing the legs and or feet simulating the beneficial effects of walking. The rapid rise of the cuff pressure assists with emptying of the venous blood of the extremities and allows oxygenated blood to move down the limb delivering nutrients to deprived tissues. This simple mechanism of action also allows edema or swelling of the extremity to be relieved. By relieving swelling, additional oxygenated blood can be delivered to the ischemic limb. Additionally, there is an increase release of nitric oxide and certain tissue and platelet derived growth factors. The nitric oxide has a positive effect on the internal cells that line the vessel wall, enabling relaxation and improved flow. Other tissue and growth factors lead to the development of new blood vessels and therefore, improve the delivery of additional oxygen and nutrients to the extremity.
Since the Internet is all about getting info quickly and moving on, here’s what this medical jargon means in plain English…
Dr. Kavros is talking about a leg pump (what we’ll refer to as an arterial pump) that is proven to improve circulation to the legs and feet when the arteries are blocked. When your arteries are significantly blocked, your muscles start sending pain signals to your brain. This is called PAD – think of it as a heart attack of the legs.
The way this arterial pump technology works is by simulating walking for your blood-deprived muscles. Instead of making you get up and walk, this therapy happens while you’re sitting in a chair. When you walk, blood in the veins travels up to your heart, gets refreshed and loaded with oxygen/nutrients, and then comes back down to feed the starving muscles. The better circulation you have in your legs, the less they will hurt.
Dr. Kavros says that this compression sequence can also reduce swelling. This pump compresses your leg three times per minute. If you use the pump for three hours a day, imagine how much more blood flow you’re getting!
A fringe benefit to this therapy that was recently discovered is your body’s natural release of nitric oxide. This substance is not to be confused with nitrous oxide, which is what your dentist will give you to make you laugh at his dumb jokes while he’s working on your teeth. When nitric oxide is released by the lining of your arteries, your blood vessels temporarily open up to accept more nutritious blood. Again, this happens three times a minute so that your blood vessels are constantly widened throughout therapy.
This is the compression technology Dr. Kavros is talking about: The ArtAssist® device. To learn more, click the picture!
Update: Dr. Paul van Bemmelen has also written an article for faim.org about pneumatic compression device therapy for PAD. Read it here