Exercise to Reduce the Pain of Neuropathy

Friday, June 22nd, 2012 by American Senior Fitness Association   View This Issue of Experience!

American Senior Fitness Association author Jim Evans is a 45-year veteran of the health-fitness industry and an internationally recognized fitness consultant. Today Jim offers hope to an older adult seeking guidance in managing a prevalent health concern, neuropathy.

DEAR JIM: I am 75 years old, and for the past seven years I have been afflicted by painful neuropathy in my feet. It usually comes on at night when I am trying to sleep and, as you can imagine, I haven’t been sleeping very well. Sometimes my feet feel as if they are on fire! My doctor has told me repeatedly that I should be more physically active, but I don’t see how that would help. In the meantime, he keeps giving me pain medication, but it hasn’t helped very much either. What do you

DEAR DOUBTING DEBBIE: It’s a funny thing about doctors. We believe everything they say unless it is something we don’t want to hear. For seven years you have been taking pain medication with very little relief, and for seven years your doctor has been telling you to exercise, but you have ignored his advice. You must be a glutton for punishment!

According to the Neuropathy Association, more than 20 million people suffer from neuropathy in the U.S., so you are not alone in your misery. Neuropathy — or peripheral neuropathy, as it is more commonly known — is pain, tingling or numbness caused by nerve damage and usually occurs in the hands and feet. It is difficult to treat and is most often seen in patients with trauma, diabetes and certain other conditions. In fact, more than half of all diabetics suffer from neuropathy. Neuropathey is often associated with poor nutrition, too.

Exercise is commonly recommended for patients with chronic pain, and a recent study published in Anesthesia & Analgesia, the official journal of the International Anesthesia Research Society, provides evidence that exercise helps to ease neuropathic pain by reducing inflammation. Running (or walking) on a treadmill or swimming were the specific forms of exercise used in the study. Is there any reason why you cannot do one or the other, or both?

Exercise is not going to eliminate your neuropathic pain entirely, but patients in the study experienced a 30 to 50 percent reduction in pain. Sounds pretty encouraging to me.

The bottom line is that your doctor is right about exercise as a way to reduce the pain of neuropathy, so start listening to him for a change — and not just what you want to hear! You might also have your blood tested for any nutritional deficiencies because certain vitamins can sometimes help to relieve your symptoms, too.


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