Lifting Weights and Neuropathy
Neuropathy means your nerves are unable to adequately receive and send messages to different parts of your body, which can lead to nerve deterioration and muscle atrophy. Any part of your body that is not regularly used is at risk of atrophy, but you can regain function through regular exercise and proper nutrition. A study published in the US National Library of Medicine says that people with neuropathy who do strength and balance training designed for persons with peripheral neuropathy reported “significantly improved balance and strength, increased walking speed, and decreased fear of falling”4. Incorporating exercise into your lifestyle (pending approval from your doctor, of course) has many benefits, as it can help prevent your nerves from atrophying and even help restore some nerve function depending on the root cause.
The Science of Weightlifting
Before we go into examples of how to incorporate weights into your exercise regime, it is helpful to know what happens to your nerves when you lift weights. In your body, nerves called motor neurons send messages from the brain to the muscle tissues, which allows us to choose when our muscles flex1. Lifting weights activates those neurons and causes them to send more signals from the brain to the muscles. This stimulation helps keep your nerves active and therefore prevents, or slows, muscle atrophy.
Using Caution While Lifting Weights
Using weights incorrectly can cause injuries and damage your nerves further, rather than help them3. Coming up with an exercise regime that suits your needs can help prevent these injuries, and ensure you are stimulating your nerves in the safest way possible. Doing low-impact exercises with small weights is a good place to start. The right equipment, like the right exercise shoes, clothing, and other gear helps prevent injuries too. Ensuring you complete the exercises properly is also critical. Hire a personal trainer, attend classes, or even look up free videos online to help guide you to use the weights properly and prevent injuries.
As always, it is important not to push your body too far, and to check with your doctor before you change any of your lifestyle habits.
Know Your Limits
Incorporating weights into your exercise regime (with permission from your doctor) can be a great addition to maintaining a healthy lifestyle, but it is important to know your limits. Prolonged shortness of breath, excessive muscle soreness 24 to 48 hours after exercise, severe muscle cramping, and noticeably worse neuropathy symptoms are signs that you should slow down and scale back your exercising efforts2. Keeping your nerves stimulated is a fantastic pursuit, but overstimulation can also be dangerous. Listening to your body and resting when you need to are just as critical as exercising itself, if not more so, to maintaining your physical health.
- Dunne, D. (2017, July 11). Oklahoma State University study on nerves and muscles. Mail Online. https://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-4681956/Strength-comes-nerves-muscles.html
- Haupt, J. (2017, March 1). Exercise Can Relieve Pain for People with Neuropathy. Brain and Life. https://www.brainandlife.org/articles/exercise-rx-for-nerve-pain/
- North, C. (2019, August 13). What Kind of Nerve Damage Can You Get From Lifting Weights? LIVESTRONG.COM. https://www.livestrong.com/article/375689-what-kind-of-nerve-damage-can-you-get-from-lifting-weights/
- Tofthagen, C., Visovsky, C., & Berry, D. L. (2012). Strength and Balance Training for Adults With Peripheral Neuropathy and High Risk of Fall: Current Evidence and Implications for Future Research. Oncology Nursing Forum, 39(5), E416–E424. https://doi.org/10.1188/12.onf.e416-e424
Natalie was a Student Writer for the Calgary Neuropathy Association and has now completed her degree and is in the working world.