Exercising with Peripheral Neuropathy (Safely AND Effectively)

Dr. Robert Parker
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Dr. Parker is a podiatrist and surgeon in Houston, TX who has been helping patients for more than 40 years.

Living with diabetes can feel like having restraints attached to multiple parts of your life.

Watching your diet, consistently monitoring blood sugar levels, taking medication. All vitally important, but also admittedly not very fun.

If peripheral neuropathy has developed in your feet, you may feel that meaningful exercise and movement just aren’t in the cards for you, either. The lessening of sensation in your feet can cause problems, and you’ve likely heard the warnings of what can happen if an injury to your foot is not detected and is left alone to grow worse.

Or, just as bad, you have painful sensations in your feet that make you reluctant to get up and get moving—and understandably so!

Too little sensation or too much sensation; it feels like you just can’t win.

But that’s not true! Exercising with neuropathy is something that, yes, does require some planning and care. But in a great many cases it’s not only possible; it’s helpful against the reasons you might not want to do it!

Get that Blood Moving

Peripheral neuropathy often develops in diabetic patients because the effects of the condition cause reduced blood flow. This, combined with high blood glucose levels, damages nerves over time.

The feet can be especially vulnerable as it normally takes more effort to have blood circulate to this area of your body, with or without diabetes. You can thank gravity and pure distance from your heart for that.

However, exercising with neuropathy can strengthen your cardiovascular system and increase blood flow. This can undo some of the damage to your circulation, providing a better supply of the oxygen and other nutrients your nerve cells need to keep going.

Sticking with exercise can help keep your blood sugar in check, further slowing the progression of diabetic symptoms.

Not only that, it can play a part in reducing inflammation and lessening pain. Over the long term, it can also build up strength and stability in your lower limbs, providing more of a safeguard against falls and give-outs that can lead to dangerous injuries.

But Before You Start…

You likely saw this coming if you’ve ever seen any form of fitness program commercial, but this is especially important to take to heart if you have diabetes and/or peripheral neuropathy:

While we will be suggesting some exercises here, always consult your doctor before starting or making changes to a workout regimen.

While many exercises can have a general overall benefit for most people, there are some cases where more or less of a concentration on certain elements may be better for an individual.

Going over an exercise plan with someone who knows the ins and outs of your condition will not only help avoid problems (such as poor workout shoes causing sores on your feet), but may also focus your routine to have the best benefit for you.

Types of Exercise to Focus On

In most cases, variety is key to building a good, all-around neuropathy-countering plan. There are certain aspects to focus on (again, with the guidance of a professional!), with several ways to approach each.

Following are a few of these areas, and examples of exercise within them.

Low-Impact Aerobic Activity. As noted earlier, improving blood flow is one of the primary goals in exercising with neuropathy. However, keeping the impact to your feet low is also a heavy consideration.

Hitting the pavement with jogging is likely not a good idea, as it may be too rough on your feet. There are other excellent options, however: walking, swimming, and biking can all heighten circulation and improve stability while lowering injury risk to the feet.

You don’t necessarily have to get outside if your location and preferences lean away from doing so. A treadmill or a stationary bike can both be good options—as long as you use them.

Strength Training. While aerobics are important, building muscle strength will help you process sugars better and aid your stability.

Your starting sense of stability may influence what you should start out with. Sitting exercises may be recommended first, and there can be plenty of machines at the local gym that can help you with that.

If you don’t have a local gym or just don’t like it, however, there are exercises that can be performed at home, too!

One quick and easy example is the Seated Dorsiflexion. Sit on the front half of a chair and place both feet flat on the floor. Slowly and gradually pull your ankles and toes up as high as you can, then slowly lower them. Repeat 10-15 times for a full repetition, and ideally do 3 repetitions twice a day.

At-home exercises can often be adjusted as you build strength. The closer you place your feet to your body in the above exercise, the more challenging it becomes.

Stability Exercises. While fall risks tend to be thought of as a problem later in life, increasing your stability now steels yourself against both natural deterioration of stability and that caused as an effect of neuropathy.

This is another area that is vital to improve upon. However, be cautious about when choosing how to start. One-legged routines, planks, and heel-toe walking are all examples of exercises that can build your core and coordination, but you don’t want to begin where you are most unstable.

Additional Exercise Recommendations

While building your strength, circulation, and core in themselves are primary goals, don’t neglect the ways exercise can benefit your mind—and how that can double back on physical health.

Mindful exercises such as tai chi gentle yoga can help manage stress and reduce blood pressure—both of which are helpful at reducing pain and inflammation.

When it comes to these types of exercise, choose something that makes you feel best; something you can feel comfortable and proud doing. It can help you much more than you might expect!

Houston Help for Diabetic Neuropathy

While exercise can be a very helpful and important factor in managing neuropathy and diabetes, it is far from the only one. Proper diabetic foot care also includes proper care in many other aspects.

When it comes to care for your feet, we here at Parker Foot & Ankle want to be in your corner! We are not only a trusted resource for treating problems when they arise, but we provide preventative care to help ensure potential dangers don’t arise in the first place.

Call our office at (281) 497-2850 and we will be happy to speak with you.

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