You’ve been suffering with burning, tingling, and numbness in your feet. Maybe, you’ve been plagued with freezing pain or a sharp, almost electric stinging in your legs and arms, or even worse- you have poor balance and fall often. Now you’re wondering, how in the world can you possibly even exercise.
The thought of trying to exercise can seem daunting, especially if you are confined to a wheelchair, scooter or walker, or if the pain is so severe you’re not sure you can handle it. Don’t worry, there are many varying exercises or stretches that you can perform, regardless of your level of disability.
If you’ve been battling an ongoing loss of balance, weakness in your feet and legs resulting in difficulty walking, numbness, tingling or cramping pain in your feet and legs, then chances are you have a condition known as peripheral neuropathy (PN). Your symptoms may have initially started off mild but have progressively worsened with time and you don’t know what to do.
According to the Mayo Clinic and numerous research studies, exercise can help reduce pain from this condition and increase your mobility.
Dr. Sheri Colberg, (Chair and Associate Professor of the Department of Kinesiology at Boise State University), says, that PN need not get worse: "There is some evidence that improving blood flow to the feet with regular physical activity can prevent additional problems and even reverse the condition to a degree."
Exercise Techniques for Peripheral Neuropathy
There are three main types of exercises ideal for people with peripheral neuropathy:
Aerobic, Balance, And Stretching.
The most effective and safest choices of exercise when PN is in the picture depend on the severity of neuropathy symptoms. Always, Refer to a physical or occupational therapist, or a healthcare provider, regarding an exercise program that’s right for you.
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.
Aerobic type exercises increases your heart rate, works your muscles, and raises your breathing rate. For most people, the target to aim for is about a total of 30 minutes a day, between 3-5 days a week. If you haven’t been very active recently, you can start out with 5 or 10 minutes a day and work up to more time each week. Or split up your activity for the day — try a 10-minute walk after each meal.
Some examples of aerobic exercises are:
- Brisk walking*
- swimming or water aerobics*
- Seated pedal station (for arms or legs)
- Stationary bicycling (indoors)*
Your ability to perform these exercises will depend on your balance. Also, if walking increases pain, it would be best to hold off on this form of exercising until your pain levels decrease. If either of these are the case, start off with the seated pedal station.
A progressive loss of balance and stability is very common with Peripheral neuropathy. These changes occur because your feet begin to lose sensation.Balance training can build your strength, reduce feelings of tightness, prevent falls and improve confidence.
Here's what you will need:
- An armless chair (kitchen or dining room is fine)
- Smooth bottom shoes
- Painters Tape (lowe's or home depot)
- Soft item to step over (stuffed animal or small throw pillow not over 6 inches in height)
1. Single Leg Stance
- Stand next to a chair or counter and hold onto it.
- Raise your right foot off the floor and while holding on to chair or the counter, attempt to keep your foot off the floor for 10 seconds.
- Place your right foot down flat, then switch to your left foot, raise and hold for 15 seconds.
- Repeat this series 10 times with each leg.
- Perform this exercise daily (note: each day try to increase the number of seconds that you can hold your foot off the ground until you reach 1 full minute for each leg. Once you reach this goal, then repeat these exercises using only one hand/arm to hold onto chair/counter. This will increase the degree of difficulty).
2. Marching Exercise
- Stand next to a chair, counter, or wall and hold onto it- for support and stabilization.
- Alternate lifting one knee as high as possible, then the other knee as high as possible.
- Do this for one or two minutes, counting a long “one, two” each time you lift the knee.
3. Heel - Toe Walk
(Advanced-only do this if you can perform the first two exercises, safely) Perform this exercise with the assistance of a loved one, walker or cane until your balance improves.)
2. Marching Exercise
- Use a cane, walker or stand next to a wall with no obstructions in the way, in front of you.
- While holding onto a supportive aid or the wall, position the heel of one foot just in front of the toes of the other foot. Your heel and toes should touch or almost touch.
- Choose a spot ahead of you and focus on it to keep you steady as you walk.
- Take a step. Put your heel just in front of the toe of your other foot.
- Repeat for 20 steps.
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.
1. Place one leg behind you with your toe pointing forward.
2. Take a step forward with the opposite foot and slightly bend the knee.
3. Lean forward with the front leg while keeping the heel on your back leg planted on the floor.
4. Hold this stretch for 15 seconds.
5. Repeat three times per leg.
Seated hamstring stretch
1. Sit on the edge of a chair.
2. Extend one leg in front of you with your toe pointed upward.
3. Bend the opposite knee with your foot flat on the floor.
4. Position your chest over your straight leg, and straighten your back until you feel a muscle stretch.
5. Hold this position for 15 – 20 seconds.
6. Repeat three times per leg.
Strength training exercises help to make the muscles stronger and less susceptible to injury. Here are some strength training exercises you can do at home.
Check with your physician before beginning any exercise program.
Range of Motion
Range of motion exercises help stimulate nerve conduction and circulation to affected areas. Range of motion exercises are performed at joints. For example, a range of motion exercise for the foot will rotate the ankle joint. Sitting in a chair, lift the affected foot and circle in a clockwise motion, then a counterclockwise motion. Repeat this cycling of the joint between five and 10 times in each direction.
Toe Tapping Exercises
Sit in a chair with your heels on the floor. Separate your feet about hips-distance apart. Lift the toes of your feet off the floor, then lower them, creating a tapping motion. You can do one foot at a time or both together. Repeat this exercise between 15 and 20 times.
(strengthen your buttocks, low back and legs)
1. Backward Leg Raises Stand behind a sturdy chair, holding on for balance. Breathe in slowly.
- Breathe out and slowly lift one leg straight back without bending your knee or pointing your toes. Try not to lean forward. The leg you are standing on should be slightly bent.
- Hold position for 1 second.
- Breathe in as you slowly lower your leg.
- Repeat 10 to 15 times.
- Repeat 10 to 15 times with other leg.
- Repeat 10 to 15 more times with each leg.
1. Sit on the edge of the chair, feet hip-width apart. Lean slightly forwards.
2. Stand up slowly using your legs, not arms. Keep looking forward and don't look down. (If younormally use a cane for walking, use the cane during this exercise).
3. Stand upright before slowly sitting down, bottom-first.
4. Aim for five repetitions – the slower the better.
Side Leg Raises
Strengthen your hips, thighs, and buttocks with side leg raises.
1. Stand behind a sturdy chair with feet slightly apart.
2. Rest your hands on back of the chair for balance. Breathe in slowly.
3. Breathe out and slowly lift one leg out to the side. Keep your back straight and your toes facing forward. The leg you are standing on should be slightly bent.
4. Hold position for 1 second.
5. Breathe in as you slowly lower your leg.
6. Repeat 10 to 15 times.
7. Repeat 10 to 15 times with other leg.
8. Repeat 10 to 15 more times with each leg.
1. Rest your hands on the back of a chair for stability.
2. Lift both heels off the floor as far as is comfortable. The movement should be slow and controlled.
3. Repeat 10 times.
These exercises have tremendous benefit for those with peripheral neuropathy. When done regularly, they may reduce neuropathic pain, improve balance and minimize falls, decrease muscle spasms and improve strength and endurance. Start off slowly and cautiously. Always consult your physician before beginning any exercise program. Formore information on neuropathy exercises and nutrition, visit us at: Nerve Doctor
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