Damage to your nerves can occur from traumatic injury and disease. Nerve damage can cause pain, numbness and tingling as well as lack of coordination, mobility or strength. Research shows that exercise and repetitive movement might help regenerate nerve cells and improve nervous system signaling. Rehabilitation strategies vary depending upon the injury, your age and your current state of health. Talk to your doctor or neurologist about specific exercises for you.
The Nervous System
Your nervous system is ruled by your brain and spinal cord; together they are considered the central nervous system, or CNS. All nervous signals are passed to and from these areas for processing. Nerve branches, comprised of cells called neurons, split off from your CNS into muscles, tissues and organs. Neurons form connections, or pathways, when you learn a new task. Once a task is learned and a pathway is made — like learning to walk — the task becomes easier to perform. Because neural pathways are generated through repetition of movements and thought, exercise may help to rebuild damaged connections.
Participating in voluntary exercise — where you are able to move on your own — can stimulate your nervous system and encourage neuron connection. A May 2004 study published in the "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences" examined the effects of voluntary exercise on animals that suffered nerve damage from injury. Subjects who voluntarily ran on the exercise wheel showed significant improvement in nervous connection when compared with sedentary animals. Exercising animals saw increases in neurite — projections off a neuron — and axon — part of the nerve cell that conducts impulses — lengths.
Walking and Running
Simply walking and running every day will have a positive effect on your nervous system. The Franklin Institute states that both types of exercise promote cognitive as well as muscular function and can prevent nerve cell decline in your brain. If you are a male, endurance training may be more beneficial than interval training, while the opposite might be true for females. According to a March 2011 study published in the "Annals of Anatomy," modest daily treadmill training can have as significant impact axon growth and proper direction of connection. In male rats, researchers found that slow, endurance running produced the most axon growth with accurate connections. In contrast, female rats responded better to interval exercise performed at higher intensity.
Fine Motor Skills
Though gross motor skills, like those involved in walking, are essential, you may need to retrain your fingers to grasp a pencil or some other everyday type of task. These movements often involve fine motor skills, and it can require more concentration and repetition to master. The American Stroke Association recommends using your affected area as much as possible and repeating movements several times each day to reconnect neural pathways. For instance, you can use a rubber band to stretch and passively move your fingers or actively place pegs in a peg board. The key is to move the limbs or areas with nerve loss or damage frequently, focusing on the motions to reconnect your mind and body.
- KidsHealth: Brain and Nervous System
- "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences"; Voluntary exercise increases axonal regeneration from sensory neurons; R. Molteni et al; May 2004
- The Franklin Institute: The Human Brain — Exercise
- "Annals of Anatomy"; Enhancing Recovery from Peripheral Nerve Injury Using Treadmill Training; A.W. English et al; March 2011
- American Stroke Association: Tips for Improving Fine Motor Skills