[Note: As explained in this article, nerve pain (neuropathy) can be caused by rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes, and other conditions, but can also be hereditary or a side effect of certain medications.]
Author: Haupt, J. Freelance health writer.
Journal: Neurology Now. March/April 2007; Volume3(2); pp 33-35. [To read the full text of this article at the American Academy of Neurology website, click here.]
People with neuropathy were once told not to exercise, but not any more. Here are simple tips for getting started.
John Seneff, 77, a retired attorney in San Antonio, Texas, used to run six miles every day. But in his early fifties, he began noticing that his feet ached after he ran, and the condition just kept getting worse. I didn't want to stop running, but within three years even walking briskly was painful, recalls Seneff, who was diagnosed with peripheral neuropathy in 1997. For me, though, giving up exercise just wasn't an option.
Peripheral neuropathy describes damage to the nerves that run from the brain and spinal cord to the rest of the body, many of which are responsible for sensing touch, temperature, and pain. Neuropathy can be caused by diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, cancer, HIV, and other conditions, but it can also be hereditary or a side effect of certain medications. Typically, people first experience tingling and numbness in the hands and feet. They often describe the symptoms as burning, shooting pain, throbbing, and aching; some say that neuropathic pain feels like frostbite or like walking on a bed of coals.
An estimated 20 million people in the U.S. suffer with the chronic nerve pain, oversensitivity, and numbness of peripheral neuropathy-and like Seneff, many of them struggle with the question of how to exercise without exacerbating their condition.
The rule of thumb used to be that patients diagnosed with a chronic neurological disease were told not to exercise at all, says Richard Shields, P.T., Ph.D., director and professor of the Graduate Program in Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation Science at the University of Iowa. Now, more and more doctors are recommending low-impact exercise instead of inactivity.
Seneff decided to invest in a recumbent stationary bike and an elliptical trainer, which are easier on his feet as well as the joints throughout his body. Other low-impact options for a cardio work-out include walking and water aerobics. You can find water aerobics classes at most health clubs and physical therapy centers; many community pools also offer classes.
[Topics covered include Why Exercise? Mood Medicine; Slow and Steady, Safety First and Last; Gear Up: What to Wear and Why; Three Easy Warm-Ups; Five Signs of Excessive Exercise.]