I was recently diagnosed with peripheral neuropathy. I still have feeling in my fingers, but I've lost most of the feeling in my toes. Do you have any advice on ways I can manage this condition through exercise or supplementation?
Peripheral neuropathy causes pain (sometimes described as tingling or burning) and numbness in the hands and feet. While HIV is one cause of the condition, it's certainly not the only one. Diabetes and cancer treatments (such as radiation or chemotherapy) are also common causes. Sometimes the condition improves with treatment of the underlying cause, sometimes it doesn't.
Resistance training is a great way to improve overall muscle strength, especially for people with peripheral neuropathy, and there's research to prove it. In a 2006 study, subjects who walked for one hour, four times a week, slowed down the worsening of their peripheral neuropathy.
Researchers at the University of Louisville showed that lower-body weight training (30 minutes three times a week) improved muscle strength and quality of life in patients doing such routine tasks as walking to the car.
You should avoid high impact exercises (e.g., running on a treadmill or jumping up and down) because they more often result in foot injuries. Seated resistance exercises are an excellent choice, as are swimming, rowing, and pretty much any upper body exercise. If you don't have access to weight machines, you can try these simple movements anywhere:
Hands. Touch the pad of your thumb with the pad of the index finger, moving the index finger down to the base of your thumb. Repeat this movement twice with the index, middle, ring, and little fingers in succession.
Legs and Feet. Straighten one knee and point your foot. Flex your ankle five times. Next, circle your ankle clockwise, and counterclockwise, five times each.
Balance. From a standing position, rise up slowly on your tiptoes, and then go back on to your heels. The knees should be kept straight, but not locked.
Bottom line: Exercise may not actually reverse the condition, but it can most certainly help.
Sam Page is a certified fitness trainer and freelance journalist. As director of Sam Page Fitness, he operates three private studios in Southern California. He contributes to several national magazines and also publishes a weekly e-newsletter from Sam Page Fitness and a daily blog called Peace Love Lunges.