Elderly people with mobility problems could find some relief with an inflatable stocking, according to researchers from the Imperial College London.
In a trial involving 34 patients with artery disease (intermittent claudication), the researchers found the subjects could walk up to two and a half times as far without symptoms, after using an inflatable compression stocking for three hours a day over six months.
Artery disease involves blocked arteries limiting blood flow to the lower extremities causing cramps and preventing easy mobility. It affects around five per cent of people over 70.
The subjects also reported that their symptoms were relieved for up to a year after treatment with the intermittent pneumatic foot and calf compression (IPC) device had been completed.
The team, which published their findings in the European Journal of Vascular and Endovascular Surgery, also claimed that the stocking was just as effective in increasing mobility as physiotherapy.
Lead author Dr George Geroulakos wrote: "We are astounded by the effectiveness of this therapy which does not involve drugs and invasive procedures, and can even be quite pleasant for the patient.
"Currently the best treatment for intermittent claudication is intense physiotherapy three times a week for up to 6 months. The high costs of this approach prohibit its widespread use. The inflatable stocking technology, similar to physiotherapy, is effective in increasing the distance people can walk by two and half times and therefore an attractive alternative, especially as the treatment can be carried out at home."
Dr Geroulakos also said the results of the study could affect international practice because the cost savings compared to physiotherapy are so dramatic.