Those affected by neuropathy may balk at the idea of starting an exercise program, when simply getting through the tasks associated with daily living can be a challenge. However, the benefits associated with incorporating regular exercise that address strength, aerobics, balance and flexibility have been shown to enhance the overall quality of life as well as, in many cases, alleviating neuropathy symptoms and even preventing the progression of neuropathic pain.
In an experimental study by the International Anesthesia Research Society (IARS), results suggested that regular exercise can reduce the inflammatory response caused by certain cytokines (small proteins involved in immune responses) as well as the characteristic abnormal response to temperature and pressure. (1)
Gentle strength training is necessary to keep the muscles that support your joints strong, and maintaining flexibility will aid in preventing your joints from stiffening. The result can be a reduction in the inflammation and swelling that cause painful joints. Adding low-impact aerobic exercises such as walking, stationary biking or swimming can have the additional benefit of helping with weight loss or maintenance, and preventing the pain that excess weight can put on weak joints.
Patients with diabetes encounter additional challenges: regulation of blood glucose levels, increased susceptibility to foot ulceration, and falls due to changes in sensation and balance. According to the Foundation for Peripheral Neuropathy, 70% of diabetic patients experience neuropathic pain. The improved control of blood glucose levels that results from regular exercise can greatly reduce the progression of diabetic neuropathy. (2)
Exercise can play an important role in offering patients a non-drug addition – and in many cases, alternative – to deal with their neuropathic pain, without the side effects associated with medications.
Consult your doctor
Be sure to consult your doctor before starting any exercise program. And remember that everyone is different; be aware of how your body feels after exercise. Some effort is required to generate results; however, the goal is not to increase your pain but to increase your overall strength and sense of well-being, and offer you the chance to take a proactive role in your care.
International Anesthesia Research Society (IARS). “How Does Exercise Affect Nerve Pain?” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 1 June 2012. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/06/120601120513.htm
Shakher J, Stevens MJ. Update on the management of diabetic polyneuropathies. Diabetes Metab Syndr Obes. 2011;4:289-305.