For some, the prospect of neuropathy and exercise may seem not only unrealistic but an almost ironic misplacement of priorities. Exercise is important for everyone, though, neuropathy and exercise can help control blood sugar and actually slow down the progression and symptoms of the condition!
Exercising regularly greatly decreases anyone’s risk of diabetic neuropathy, and has been shown to control symptoms and deterioration in sufferers by elevating overall blood flow to the limbs and controlling cardiovascular atrophy. Depending on your specific type of neuropathy, areas affected, and the extent of the damage, you will have to adjust conventional workout routines to accommodate the condition. Ask your NeuropathyDR® clinician if you have questions, and be sure to consult them before beginning any workout program. Your clinician will inspect your feet and legs for signs of potential problems, and will help you make sure your shoes are properly fitted so as to avoid neuropathy-related injuries.
- Use silica gel or air midsoles
- Use polyester or polyester/cotton blend socks to keep your feet dry
- Avoid any workout clothes that rub against your skin in the same area.
Ann Albright of the Division of Diabetes Translation in Atlanta cautions that neuropathy patients will want to steer clear of most repetitive or weight-bearing exercise, such as running, walking, or extensive weight training (although some sources advocate weight training as beneficial, in moderation). So which exercises are the most beneficial while reducing risk?
Swimming is one of the best exercises, as it is an activity adaptable to any age, fitness level, or degree of neuropathy symptoms. Swimming is also a full-body, “no-impact” workout, and so is less harmful to your joints, legs, and feet than most other forms of exercise, without sacrificing circulation (ask any lap swimmer and they’ll tell you—swimming has no problem getting your heart rate up!) As such, it is highly recommended for almost anyone.
Bicycling, rowing, and use of a stationary bicycle are other excellent, low-impact activities that can be safely integrated into a neuropathy treatment program. Some organizations have even developed exercise programs for senior citizens suffering from neuropathy, incorporating a heavy emphasis on seated exercises.
If you don’t have regular access to facilities or equipment for more extensive exercise, there are some basic exercises you can do almost anywhere that can help your neuropathy! Here are some to try:
- For your hands, touch the pad of your thumb with your index finger, running the finger down to the base of your thumb. Then, repeat the movement with the index, middle, ring, and little fingers. Do this exercise several times.
- For your legs and feet, straighten one knee and point your foot. Flex your ankle five times, then circle your foot five times in each direction, clockwise and counterclockwise.
- To increase balance, try this exercise: from a standing position, rise up slowly on your tiptoes, and then rock backward onto your heels. Keep your knees straight, but try not to lock them.
Additional precautions are vital for neuropathy patients to observe. After every workout session, patients should remember to check their feet and any relevant extremities for blisters, irritation, or sores. These could be vulnerable to infections, which themselves could elevate risk for amputation.
It is important for neuropathy sufferers to be mindful of their heart rate and blood pressure. Especially if you suffer from autonomic neuropathy, which can greatly increase risk of heart failure or cardiac arrest, be aware of your limitations when it comes to safe exercise. Don’t worry—there’s a way for everyone to exercise safely. If you have any doubts, consult your NeuropathyDR® clinician to review your workout plan.
Finally, be sure to monitor your body temperature. Neuropathy sufferers are at high risk when it comes to overheating, since some types of neuropathy can reduce the body’s ability to temperature-control. Consult your clinician if sweating seems overly profuse or the opposite, less than normal.
If you have any questions about neuropathy and exercise, contact us at NeuropathyDR or call
We can answer your questions and help put you in touch with a NeuropathyDR® clinician who can help you in person. Have a great workout!