About 20 million people across the country live with a form of peripheral neuropathy. Peripheral neuropathy is nerve damage disorder that typically causes pain in your hands and feet. Other common symptoms of this disorder include:
Treatment options typically focus on pain relief and treating the underlying cause. However, studies show that exercise can effectively preserve nerve function and promote nerve regeneration.
There are three main types of exercises ideal for people with peripheral neuropathy: aerobic, balance, and stretching.
Before you start exercises, warm up your muscles with dynamic stretching like arm circles. This promotes flexibility and increases blood flow. It will boost your energy, too, and activate your nerve signals.
Best practices for aerobic exercising include routine activity for about 30 minutes a day, at least three days a week. If you’re just starting out, try exercising for 10 minutes a day to start.
Some examples of aerobic exercises are:
Peripheral neuropathy can leave your muscles and joints feeling stiff and sometimes weak. Balance training can build your strength and reduce feelings of tightness. Improved balance also prevents falls.
Beginning balance training exercises include leg and calf raises.
Side leg raise
- Using a chair or counter, steady your balance with one hand.
- Stand straight with feet slightly apart.
- Slowly lift one leg to the side and hold for 5–10 seconds.
- Lower your leg at the same pace.
- Repeat with the other leg.
- As you improve balance, try this exercise without holding onto the counter.
- Using a chair or counter, steady your balance.
- Lift the heels of both feet off the ground so you’re standing on your toes.
- Slowly lower yourself down.
- Repeat for 10–15 reps.
Stretching increases your flexibility and warms up your body for other physical activity. Routine stretching can also reduce your risk of developing an injury while exercising. Common techniques are calf stretches and seated hamstring stretches.
- Place one leg behind you with your toe pointing forward.
- Take a step forward with the opposite foot and slightly bend the knee.
- Lean forward with the front leg while keeping the heel on your back leg planted on the floor.
- Hold this stretch for 15 seconds.
- Repeat three times per leg.
Seated hamstring stretch
- Sit on the edge of a chair.
- Extend one leg in front of you with your toe pointed upward.
- Bend the opposite knee with your foot flat on the floor.
- Position your chest over your straight leg, and straighten your back until you feel a muscle stretch.
- Hold this position for 15 – 20 seconds.
- Repeat three times per leg.
Exercise can reduce pain symptoms from peripheral neuropathy. Be sure to stretch after any workout to increase your flexibility and reduce pain from muscle tightness.
Mild pain is normal after stretching and regular activity. However, if your pain worsens or if you develop joint swelling, visit your doctor.