Tips for Exercising With Nerve Pain


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Peripheral Neuropathy and Diabetes

If you have diabetes and peripheral neuropathy, it’s critical that you carefully control your blood sugar levels. High blood sugar levels over time damage the blood vessels and nerves in your legs and feet. Fortunately, a good diet and regular, moderate-intensity exercise can help improve your body’s use of insulin.

Adopting healthy eating and exercise habits is “tremendously important,” because it keeps blood sugar levels under control, says Tom Elasy, MD, MPH, who holds the Ann and Roscoe R. Robinson Chair of Clinical Research at the Diabetes Center at Vanderbilt University in Nashville.

“There is considerable scientific evidence that lifestyle changes can prevent the development and slow the progression of neuropathy,” he says. “In addition, exercise like walking can relieve the pain, probably because it improves circulation.”

To change your lifestyle and help peripheral neuropathy:

  • Get regular physical activity. Ask your doctor for an exercise routine that is right for you. Aside from helping you reach and maintain a healthy weight, exercise also improves the body’s use of insulin and improves circulation. It also strengthens muscles, which improves coordination and balance. Your doctor can get you started on an exercise program that won’t be hard on your feet – such as walking, swimming, biking, or yoga. You may need to limit exercises that are hard on your feet, such as running or aerobics. People with neuropathy — especially those with bone deformities — should always wear well-fitted shoes to avoid pressure sores and ulcers on the foot.
  • If you smoke, stop. Smoking makes circulatory problems worse, and it worsens the symptoms of peripheral neuropathy. It also greatly increases the risk of heart disease in people with diabetes. Talk to your doctor about ways to quit smoking. Often, people turn to counseling and drug therapy such as nicotine patches, gum, prescription medication, or other aides. Antidepressants can also help reduce cravings and help control pain from neuropathy at the same time.
  • Carefully limit alcohol. Alcohol can worsen peripheral neuropathy and make it hard to control your blood sugar levels.


Diet and Peripheral Neuropathy

To keep blood sugar under control, it’s important to follow the right meal plan. A well-balanced diet can make a big difference. You might want to consult with your doctor or a dietitian to learn what foods are best, when to eat, how much to have of each, and what to avoid.

You will need to keep close track of the carbohydrates you eat, because they have the most immediate effect on your blood sugar. Carbohydrates are found in:

  • Breads
  • Pasta
  • Cereal
  • Milk, yogurt, and other dairy products
  • Candy, cake, cookies, ice cream (desserts)
  • Processed foods (most have sweeteners)
  • Fruits
  • Fruit juices
  • Rice/grains
  • Starchy vegetables

You should eat plenty of fiber, because it plays a role in the digestive process and delays sugar absorption. Choose from:

  • Fresh fruits and vegetables
  • Cooked dried beans and peas
  • Whole-grain breads, cereals, and crackers
  • Brown rice
  • Bran products

It’s important to eat foods that are low in fat. Good choices are:

  • Lean meats. Bake, broil, grill, roast, or boil — never fry
  • Low-fat dairy. That includes cheese, milk, and yogurt
  • Low-fat vegetable cooking spray
  • Low-fat margarines and salad dressings

Avoid high-salt foods, which can cause high blood pressure:

  • Salt
  • Boxed mixes of potatoes, rice, pasta
  • Canned meats
  • Canned soups and vegetables
  • Processed and packaged foods (lunch meat, sausage, bacon, ham)
  • Salty snack foods such as chips and pretzels
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