Exercises for Management of Neuropathy

What is Neuropathy?

Back in November, we discussed how chemotherapy can cause neuropathy— technically called “chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy" or CIPN.  You may also remember how the article explained that diet, exercises, topical applications, and physical therapy can all play a role in helping with the symptoms of neuropathy.

In this post, we want to look at some additional causes of CIPN, and how exercise, in particular, can help with rebuilding the nerve signals and aid in reducing the often debilitating late effects of CIPN.

The most common type of neuropathy is “peripheral neuropathy”—in the extremities, usually starting with fingers and toes and working inward as the disease progresses (this article has  a list of symptoms).

What Causes Neuropathy?

  • Chemotherapies (not all types, but many, especially the platinum-based kinds) are a major risk factor—somewhere between 30 and 80% of chemo patients get neuropathy.
  • Diabetes is a big risk too, since elevated blood-sugar levels can cause damage to the capillaries that supply blood to the nerves in the extremities, and can even oxidize and damage the nerves themselves.
  • HIV (and some drugs used against it) is another risk factor: about 30% of HIV-positive persons will experience neuropathy (WebMD).
  • Also, gluten sensitivity, long-term infections, depression, autoimmune problems, or any other condition that involves chronic inflammation, is going to use up the body’s supply of anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids, robbing them from the brain and nerves.  (So, fish oil can help [PubMed]).
  • Lack of sufficient dietary antioxidants can be a contributing factor as well.  (So ensure you are getting adequate vitamin B, C, & E; zinc; and all the red, orange, and purple plant pigments, which are pretty much all antioxidants.)

What Exercises Help with Neuropathy?

If you are overweight and/or diabetic, exercise and diet are the right place to start: you will not only help your neuropathy, you will fight your cancer much more effectively, feel better, and begin to reduce an immense list of risk factors for developing cancer and other problems.

But along with those changes—which will have to build up over time—there are some “quick-win” exercises that can specifically target the effects of neuropathy and begin the healing process for the nerves.  It should be self-evident that exercise can help heal, prevent, and mitigate it, but a number of scientific studies have demonstrated the same thing (see here, here, and here.)

For the best and quickest results, work with us for physical therapy targeted toward your specific “pain points” and overall health status.  But in general, helpful exercises can include the following:

  • Low-impact aerobics – cycling, walking, and water exercises to increase blood circulation
  • Balance exercises – uses/trains/rebuilds nerves and reduces falling risk
  • Yoga – calms inflammation, oxygenates the tissues, and gets the blood and lymph moving
  • Chair exercises – helpful if major muscles are too weakened for prolonged standing
  • Wrist, arm, finger, and ankle rotation, flexion, and extension – works against any repetitive-motion issues, loosens up the connective tissues, gets blood (and nutrients!) to the extremities, and lubricates the joints with synovial fluid
  • Finger taps (each finger tapping the thumb in turn), ankle rolls, and calf stretches to stimulate nerves in the extremities
  • Sensorimotor/vibration exercises – not only provides positive sensory input but can also help to treat/prevent osteoporosis

Learn more about our neuropathy therapy services and call us to schedule an appointment: (703) 789-0367.

Keep watching the ORW website and blog for more information about our newest program for CIPN and new treatment options available!