If you have been diagnosed with peripheral neuropathy, and it is affecting your feet, one of the therapies which you will be advised to undertake in order to relieve the condition is exercise.
Obviously, any kind of exercise will normally be beneficial in the general goal of preventing ill health and also in helping to treat it.
However, for peripheral neuropathy in feet there are specific exercise routines which are particularly effective in giving those who have the condition some relief, and we are going to look at five of the best below.
1. Calf Stretching
Calf stretching has several benefits, including improved mobility, a reduction in the risk of strained muscles and it also reduces cramping.
When it comes to peripheral neuropathy, the main benefit is improved circulation in your feet and toes, and an increased flow of oxygenated blood helps to limit the symptoms and provides some relief.
Here is our step by step guide to doing calf stretches effectively.
- Face towards a wall or closed door, and then place both your hands on it, shoulder width apart, with your arms held straight out in front of you.
- Take up a standing position, where your back leg is straight and just behind you, and your front leg is bent and in front of you.
- As you take up this position, you want to be pushing forward on your hips, and at the same time have your back heel pushed flat on the floor.
- Take your front foot and place it on the door or wall. As you do so, the toe part of your shoe should be bending upwards slightly. The heel of this foot needs to remain in contact with the floor,
- Now lean in towards the wall or door until you feel a stretching sensation in the calf muscle area of your rear leg. Once you feel the stretching remain in this position for around 30 seconds.
- After 30 seconds, swap and do the stretching exercise on the other leg.
- Repeat the complete cycle of stretching each leg, 3 times, and do the entire routine twice per day.
If for any reason there is no suitable wall or door, or if you prefer to exercise outside, there is an alternative way to stretch your calves, provided you have a towel available. What you do is sit down and extend your leg out in front of you.
Next, roll up the towel, and place it around the ball of your foot, while holding each end of it. Pull both ends of the towel towards you, and push your foot away from you. You should start feeling a stretch in your calf and also in the arch of your foot. Hold for 15 seconds, then do the same with your other leg. Repeat 6 times in total.
2. Toe Tapping
We know that the term toe tapping is more normally associated with enjoying a great piece of music as you tap your foot away to the beat, and in truth, if that's what you do, keep doing it.
Any opportunity you have to get your feet and toes active in order to get the blood flow moving through them should be taken.
Not with standing tapping along to your favorite tune, what we are going to look at here is a simple and discreet exercise to tap your toes, just about any time and anywhere. What you want to achieve is toe tapping to become a habit that you almost do automatically, even when music is not always present.
- Ideally you want to be sitting down on a chair so that you are comfortable, but not to the extent where you are lounging right back in it.
- Place both feet flat on the floor, and obviously, if you are home, do this in bare feet as this makes them more flexible than if you are wearing shoes, for example.
- Now simply raise all your toes upwards, and then lower them back again.
- To make your toe tapping even more effective, as you raise your toes up, turn each of your feet outwards so that they create a 'V' shape.
- For the ultimate toe-tapping workout try placing small weights on your toes so that the muscles are strengthened during your exercise. The weights can be anything such as food tins, large books, or rocks from the garden, as long as they are heavy enough to provide some resistance.
- Look for every opportunity to toe tap as each time you do, you'll be improving the blood flow through your toe and your feet, which is essential to controlling and relieving peripheral neuropathy.
3. Chair Squats
This exercise is designed to help build muscle which is one of the most important ways in which the symptoms of peripheral neuropathy, such as nerve damage, can be counteracted.
The fact that you will be working muscles will also improve the blood flow in your legs and feet, and of course, stronger muscles should also enable you to run and walk for longer periods too.
- You will need a chair for this exercise. although you are not actually going to be sitting on it, so you could use anything which is stable and is about the same height as a chair, like a wooden crate, for example.
- Stand in front of the chair, with each leg straight so that the knees and feet of each leg are aligned.
- Slowly start to lower yourself so that you almost sit on the chair but don't. Your rear can touch slightly to help your sense of balance, but you must not place any weight on it.
- Ensure that your knees remain directly above your feet.
- At this point, your weight should be on your knees and your heels. Hold for a second or two.
- Stand back up, and then repeat your chair squats for up to 15 reps.
4. Side Leg Raise
As peripheral neuropathy affects your muscles, the pain and stiffness which are common symptoms can occasionally be so severe that falls can occur.
One way in which you can help to reduce the chances of you falling is to improve your balance, and that is exactly what the Side Leg Raise exercise is designed to achieve.
- You will first need something to hold on to such as a table or chair. If you are doing this outdoors, then a tree or even a wall will do the job perfectly.
- Stand straight up and keep your back and knees straight throughout the routine.
- Lift one leg slowly so that it is between 6 and 12 inches from the ground.
- To progress you want to go from holding the chair with your hand to leaning against it with just one finger, and raising your leg, but still trying to remain balanced.
- Once you have your balance with one finger, then move to the final stage which is raising your leg without holding on to or leaning against the chair at all.
- Once this is mastered your normal routine will be to raise each leg and stay balanced for a period of 10 seconds. Do 2–3 repetitions of this each time and do the complete exercise twice a day.
5. Seated Dorsiflexion Stretches
For our fifth and final exercise, you'll be pleased to hear that you are going to be sitting down.
This is another exercise where stretching muscles help strengthen them and promotes blood flow.
- Sit on a chair with your rear positioned towards the front edge of the seat.
- Place both your feet flat on the floor.
- Start to curl your toes and then your ankles towards you as far as possible. You should feel some stretching in your feet and in your calf area.
- Move your toes and ankles forward slowly, so that they are flat on the floor again.
- Continue slowly moving your toes and ankles back and forward like this for 15 repetitions.
- Pause, and then do two more 15 repetitions. In other words, for each routine you do 3 x 15 stretches.
- Ideally, you want to do a set of 3 x 15 seated dorsiflexion stretches twice a day.
- As an extra challenge and to make these stretches even more effective, position your feet closer to the chair when you stretch.
One final point to note is that given that peripheral neuropathy can produce a range of symptoms and these will have varying impacts on each individual, before undertaking any type of exercise you should confirm its suitability with your medical practitioner or peripheral neuropathy consultant.