Peripheral neuropathy (PN) is a general term that encompasses many disorders that involve damage to the body’s peripheral nervous system. This is the communication network between the central nervous system (brain & spinal cord) and the rest of the body. PN occurs when nerves are damaged or destroyed and cannot effectively send messages from the brain and spinal cord to the muscles, skin, and other parts of the body.
There are over 100 types of peripheral neuropathy each with its own set of symptoms. PN varies significantly and can be mild to severely debilitating depending on the nerves that have been damaged and effected.
- Motor nerves control movement of muscles. Motor nerve damage can lead to muscle weakness, difficulty walking or moving the arms, cramps, and spasms.
- Sensory nerves transmit signals back from the muscles back to the brain and spinal cord. Sensory nerve damage can result in tingling, numbness, pain, and altered sensitivity to touch.
- Autonomic nerves are those used for involuntary functions which include things like breathing, digesting food, and heart and gland functions. Damage to these nerves can impact the heart rate, cause dizziness, severely impact sweating, cause difficulty swallowing, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea or constipation, problems with urination, abnormal pupil size, and sexual dysfunction.
Causes – There are numerous causes of PN which may be related to certain medical conditions such as diabetes or auto-immune conditions. Certain medications such as those used in the treatment of cancer can also lead to PN. Additionally, some cases of PN may be caused by poor nutrition and alcoholism.
Benefits of Exercise
Although exercise will not cure PN it does have its place in the treatment and management of this condition. Exercise has been shown to improve neuropathic pain and can improve nerve health and preservation of nerves.
Additionally, as previously mentioned PN can be associated with muscle weakness and lack of sensation. Both can significantly impact balance and increase the risk of falls. Specific balance and strengthening exercise has the ability to reduce the risk of falls and significantly improve functional capacity of those with PN. Furthermore, regular exercise can decrease fatigue and improve mobility which can significantly improve the quality of life of those suffering with PN.
If you would like further information about peripheral neuropathy and the benefits of exercise speak with an Accredited Exercise Physiologist who can also help you plan safe individualised and effective exercise.