When every movement hurts, limiting your exercise or stopping altogether can be tempting. After all, with your feet propped up in your favorite chair, you don’t notice the pain as much. However, inactivity is one of the worst decisions you can make if you have peripheral neuropathy.
The Link Between Immobility and Health
Usually when your body hurts, it is trying to tell you something that is not right. Often, proper rest, stretching, or icing aching muscles will help them heal on their own. However, indulging in too much rest can undermine your health in other ways. Immobility can lead to the following conditions:
- Muscle atrophy: You can lose muscle mass and strength, which can be challenging to rebuild.
- Muscle tightening: You are no longer as flexible. The less you move, the more you lose the ability to move which easily becomes a progressive downward spiral.
- Lower metabolism: You are more likely to gain weight, have lower energy levels, and have difficulty regulating your body temperature.
- Injury: As the supportive tissues around your joints weaken, you are more likely to get injured participating in daily activities.
- Depression: As you stop moving, you isolate yourself and focus more on your pain than your life. Depression can increase neuropathy symptoms and make it difficult to function.
On the flip side, daily aerobic exercise has the following benefits:
- Increases energy and helps maintain weight as it helps rev your metabolism.
- Fights depression by producing endorphins, which act as natural painkillers and improve your well-being.
- Controls blood glucose, making it possible to use less insulin if you have diabetes, and decreases inflammation caused by elevated glucose.
- Maintains or improves flexibility, making injury less likely.
- Preserves or improves muscle strength for overall endurance and health.
- Increases blood flow and oxygenation in the blood vessels leading to your nerves, which strengthens and protects nerve tissue.
How Aerobic Exercise Treats Neuropathic Pain
Peripheral neuropathy often occurs when the nerves in the hands and feet don’t receive the nutrients they need. Without proper nourishment, they fail to carry signals to the brain as they should. Instead, individuals with neuropathy may feel pain, numbness, or tingling without a direct cause. Increasing circulation through aerobic exercise helps to deliver oxygen and nutrients to the nerve cells. Nerves are healthier and better able to function optimally.
Neuropathy cases vary widely, though. There is no one-size-fits all approach to exercising with peripheral neuropathy. You should consult your physician before starting any exercise program, especially if you have existing health conditions the program may exacerbate.
However, there are some general guidelines to help you decide what type of exercise could be beneficial for you.
Protect Your Feet
People with neuropathy can experience tingling, pain, or numbness in the feet and legs. It’s essential to prevent injury by wearing good shoes and checking your feet for damage before and after exercise.
With numbness and tingling, individuals with neuropathy are at an increased risk for falls or other injuries. Consider exercises that allow you to hold on for support or participate sitting down.
Choose Low-impact Exercises
For those with peripheral neuropathy, high-impact exercise such as running will not only be uncomfortable, but it may cause symptoms to increase. Low-impact exercise is a great way to decrease pain and increase healing.
Some possible choices to explore include:
- Walking– Available anywhere, though extreme temperatures can negatively impact nerve pain. If your local high school or college has a track, the flat, impact-absorbing surface could be beneficial. During extreme weather, or if there are no safe places to walk, joining the local gym would give you access to treadmills.
- Water Aerobics– A virtually non-impact activity, water aerobics is a great option for increasing strength, endurance, and range of motion without worrying about injury. If you have a pool, you can find exercise ideas online. Many local gyms and pools give classes for members. Be careful getting in and out of the pool to avoid slipping, and dry your feet thoroughly before putting your shoes on. Wet skin blisters more easily.
- Swimming– Like water aerobics, this is a no-impact workout. However, it’s a significant workout. You may not realize you’re sweating while you swim and get dehydrated. Dehydration can worsen neuropathy symptoms, so keep a water bottle by the pool. Start slow and listen to your body. Learn swimming lane etiquette if you’re sharing a lane with other swimmers to prevent collisions and rest when needed.
- Elliptical Machines– In your home or at the gym, this low-impact machine allows you to do a large range of motion exercise while giving you something to hang on to if you have trouble with balance. Going forward exercises your quads while going backward works on your derriere. Start slow and build up your endurance gradually.
- Recumbent Bikes– This low-impact exercise allows you to sit up rather than hunch over as other bike machines do. The seat is more comfortable, too.
- Yoga– While there is little impact, that doesn’t mean it’s always comfortable. Some yoga practices are slow and gentle. Others are more rigorous and demand more of your body. Find one that you can do comfortably while building muscle and flexibility. It’s also usually done barefoot, so watch for injuries.
- Tai Chi– Like yoga, this low-impact exercise is often practiced barefoot. The movements are slow and adaptable for people with different strengths.
All exercise is adaptable. You can go slower, for shorter times, or do fewer repetitions than your instructor. Pay attention the day or two after your workout. If your neuropathy flares up, then you know you did too much. Dial it down a notch until you find the right balance of movement and gentleness. Whatever you do, don’t give up on finding a way to keep moving in healthy ways. Your body will be stronger and healthier because of it.
DISCLAIMER: THIS ARTICLE DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE
The information, including but not limited to texts, graphics, images, and other material contained in this article, are for informational purposes only. None of the material mentioned is intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment before undertaking a new care regimen. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read in this article.