Peripheral neuropathy occurs when nerves become compressed, injured or severed. This results in symptoms including pain, numbness, tingling and lack of coordination, particularly in the feet and hands. While these symptoms can make exercise more difficult, exercise is highly beneficial to those who experience nerve damage. Understanding what exercises benefit you most can help to reduce peripheral neuropathy symptoms.
A number of conditions that affect the nerves can cause peripheral neuropathy. These include diabetes, which is one of the most common causes; infection; injury; autoimmune disease; poison exposure; and tumor growth. If nerve cells have not been completely killed off due to peripheral neuropathy, nerve cells can regenerate and symptoms can improve. Following an exercise program for peripheral neuropathy can help to reduce symptoms while nerve cells heal. As part of a comprehensive treatment plan, exercise programs for peripheral neuropathy should include a combination of resistance, cardiovascular and flexibility training.
Repeated stretching throughout the day as part of your exercise program can help to relieve tingling and numbness associated with peripheral neuropathy, according to the American Academy of Neurology. Examples of beneficial stretches include reaching the arms up over the head, reaching for your toes while standing, and performing torso rotations. Hold stretches for 30 seconds each. Perform these and other stretching exercises for five-minute intervals six times per day to experience symptom improvement.
Cardiovascular exercise is the calorie-burning portion of a peripheral neuropathy exercise program. Getting your heart pumping helps you to maintain a healthy weight and stimulates blood flow. Water aerobics is a low-impact exercise that does not require those with peripheral neuropathy to place pressure on their feet — an area where many experience pain. Walking or riding an exercise bicycle are additional methods that can improve symptoms.
Resistance training for peripheral neuropathy involves lifting weights, using resistance bands or leveraging the body’s own resistance in order to build muscle. If you are prone to peripheral neuropathy in the feet or lower legs, calf raises and toe pointing and flexing are resistance-training exercises that build muscles in these areas. For the arms, wrist circles, bicep curls and shoulder presses can be beneficial. If you are utilizing weights, start slowly to prevent post-exercise pain and soreness. Resistance training is particularly helpful for older adults who are wheelchair-bound or unable to engage in cardiovascular exercise, according to Neurology Reviews.
Exercising to relieve peripheral neuropathy offers benefits for both mind and body. Exercise stimulates blood flow, which can help to reduce cramping in affected areas and strengthen nerve tissue. Resistance training increases muscle strength, which prevents muscle wasting and increases stability. Peripheral neuropathy exercises also can help to relieve stress that can lead to depression in those with this condition.
- MayoClinic.com: Peripheral Neuropathy
- MedlinePlus: Peripheral Neuropathy
- GrandTimes.com: Numb Toes & Aching Soles
- National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke: Peripheral Neuropathy Fact Sheet
- Neurology Reviews: Resistance Training for Neuropathy
- American Academy of Neurology: Exercise Rx for Nerve Pain