One of our readers sent in a request for suggestions for exercising with peripheral neuropathy.
We asked Michael See, MS, RCEP, Clinical Exercise Physiologist in the clinic at the Joslin Diabetes Center to tell us what he says to his patients:
Many health benefits come with exercise. But not every type of exercise is suitable for those living with diabetes.
In fact, some exercise can actually exacerbate some health problems associated with diabetes, especially those involving the feet.
Diabetes can cause nerve damage in the form of peripheral neuropathy, which presents itself as feelings of numbness, stiffness and/or burning pain. Numbness could quickly turn dangerous if you don’t feel pain and if you have an injury that goes unnoticed and untreated. This can result in ulcers (open sores) or wounds that get infected, which can be quite serious.
Peripheral neuropathy could also cause destruction of the arches in the foot, which termed Charcot Foot. (If this happens, proper foot wear with arch support is essential to stabilize the foot or Aircast Boot. Biking is safe aerobic exercise for people with Charcot Foot to improve endurance and diabetes control.)
Because repetitive exercise on insensitive feet can lead to ulceration and fractures, you should limit your choice of exercise to low impact or non-weight bearing activities.
Lower extremity exercises that involve strength and balance are helpful for individuals with peripheral neuropathy. Long-term aerobic exercise has been shown to prevent the onset or modify the natural history of peripheral neuropathy.
Strength training can be very beneficial for people with peripheral neuropathy. Contraction of muscles, especially of lower extremities increase muscle tone, decrease sensation of tingling and weakness in the area, which lead to increase energy level to continue performing more exercise.
Avoid high impact activities that involve jumping or may result in loss of balance. Low-impact activities such as walking and stationary cycling are good options.
Other suggestions for exercises that won’t put a lot of stress on your feet include:
- Those done in the pool. Make sure to dry your feet well when you get out of the pool, and look into buying a pair of pool shoes to protect your feet in the water.
- Indoor or outdoor cycling
- Hatha (stretching) yoga
As always, ask your doctor before you begin any new exercise regimen. Your exercise program should be individualized, so ask your healthcare professional to tailor a program to your particular interests and considerations.
And pay close attention not only to your feet but also your blood-glucose (“blood sugar”) levels. Be sure to read our blog on Setting Blood Glucose Targets for Exercise.
- Click here for more information on diabetes & peripheral neuropathy.
- Click here for information on appointments with the Diabetes Exercise Physiology team at the Joslin Diabetes Center.
- Click here to view our videos on diabetes.
- Click here to read our other blogs on diabetes.
- Click here to learn more about Joslin Diabetes Center.