In 2017, the Diabetes Care journal reported that half of everyone with Type 2 diabetes is managing neuropathy and nerve pain. This is an astounding statistic and demonstrates how prevalent neuropathy is, especially for those with diabetes.
Here’s What Every Diabetic Should Know
Diabetes is a serious condition but it can be managed if common sense is applied. Exercise is an important part of managing diabetes because it helps to reduce blood sugar, improve blood flow, boost fitness and health, and decrease weight.
All of this is essential when living with diabetes. Of course, the above statistic indicates that despite all of the management, neuropathy and nerve damage is still so common among those living with diabetes that it might as well be an epidemic.
Indeed, for those with neuropathy, one of the most problematic areas is the feet. The good news is that the right foot exercises can help relieve the pain and discomfort of nerve damage in this area.
Why Do Foot Exercises Work for Neuropathy?
Did you know that the right exercises can reduce the pain associated with nerve damage and neuropathy in only ten weeks? This is according to a 2012 study published in the Journal of Diabetes and Its Complications. Furthermore, it was also found that nerve health also improved during this time.
That speaks volumes for the inherent value of exercise for diabetics but it also raises the question as to why exercise is so effective in these cases. Consider the following:
- Regular exercise helps to reduce blood sugar levels, which in turn reduces body-wide inflammation.
- Exercise can also help to reverse blood vessel damage and this increases blood flow to the peripheral parts of the body, including hands and feet.
- As more blood, oxygen, and nutrients are supplied to these peripheral areas, nerve cell function is improved and any pain and discomfort associated with neuropathy is decreased.
Essentially, even though exercise is not a cure for neuropathy, it can help to slow down progression and sustain the health of nerve cells in regions of the body where neuropathy is common. In this context, exercise should be a daily component of managing diabetes and managing neuropathy.
Useful Foot Exercises That You Can Do Every Day
If you want to ease the pain and discomfort of nerve damage in your feet, here are some simple foot exercises that have proven to be effective:
1. Tap Your Toes
Most of us have tapped our toes at least once in a while to good music but it can also be a really useful foot exercise for those with nerve damage.
While you’re sitting down, place your heels flat on the floor. The fact that you can do this exercise while sitting also makes it one of the most popular and easiest to do everyday. And once you get into the habit of it, you’ll be doing it all the time.
Now that you’re sitting with your heels flat to the floor, you need to lift up your toes and then lower them back, just as you would do when you’re listening to music. You can do this up to twenty times if you like.
It doesn’t really matter whether you have your feet together or apart but if you want to vary it a little, you can put your feet together and tap up and down as normal. When you lift them up off the floor though, turn your feet outwards pointing away from each other so that you make a “V” shape. This extra little movement helps to improve blood flow even more.
The toe tapping exercise is a great one because it’s discreet and can be done just about anywhere. You can even do it at social gatherings without drawing too much attention to yourself. The next time that you’re listening to your favorite music, why not do a little intense toe tapping as well? You’ll be surprised at just how quickly it will become a daily habit.
2. Increase Your Range of Motion
For anyone who experiences joint pain and reduced mobility, this type of exercise will be pretty familiar. It helps to increase blood flow and nerve conduction so it’s also great for diabetics and anyone with nerve damage.
The easiest way to begin this one is to sit down comfortably. Once you’re sitting down, lift up one foot and simply rotate at the ankle -- five to ten times clockwise and then counter-clockwise.
Do this for each foot but don’t push yourself too hard if you find it difficult. In short, by rotating your ankle joints in this way, you’re helping to strengthen the muscles and loosen the joint and connecting tissues.
You’re also getting blood to areas affected by nerve damage and improving the conduction of nerves. It’s an easy one to do each and every day for maximum foot health.
3. Keeping it Low-Impact
We often hear about the value of low-impact exercises. But what are they and why are they so good for some people?
People who have physical conditions, elderly people, and those with lower fitness levels often benefit from lower-impact exercises such as swimming and walking.
These physical activities reduce stress on the body but still result in increased circulation, better mobility, increased strength, and increased fitness.
For people who suffer from neuropathy and nerve pain in the feet, walking and swimming have proven to reduce pain and complications from this condition. Both of these activities can help to improve muscle strength and coordination.
If you have neuropathy, it’s important to walk shorter distances when you start out. This will get you gradually used to the exercise and will help your body to adjust to the movements. It’s also important to move the ankle fully during walking in order to get the most blood flow to the feet in order to improve nerve conduction and reduce pain.
Just the simple act of walking, which so many us take for granted, can strengthen weak muscles in the legs and ankles, improve balance and stability, and promote better nerve and blood vessel health through improved circulation.
Even if you do no other exercises mentioned here, walking each day for a short period of time will help to improve your condition over time and reduce the pain caused by nerve damage and neuropathy.
4. Point Those Legs
Just the same as the earlier exercises, this can be done in a sitting position. The beauty of this is that it’s easy on the body, making it suitable for people of all ages. It can also be done at your leisure or even while you’re out somewhere.
The first thing to do is sit in a chair with your back straight, your knees together, and your feet flat on the floor.
Breathe a few times before lifting one foot off the floor and straightening out your knee. Straighten your leg as much as you can and then point your toes away from you.
Hold this for a few moments and then flex your entire foot backwards so that your toes are pointing back towards you. You can rotate your ankle a few times in either direction before lowering your leg and then doing exactly the same with the other leg.
Can Any Other Exercises Help with Neuropathy?
The above exercises are fantastic for people who are managing neuropathy in their feet. They are relatively easy and can be performed by people of just about any age. But are there any other exercises that can help?
Low-impact cardio exercise has been shown to be beneficial to people with neuropathy. According to a 2017 study in the International Journal of Neuroscience, this kind of exercise can improve the health of blood vessels and may help people suffering with nerve damage and neuropathy.
One of the biggest problems with diabetes related neuropathy is that stud
ies have found that people are more likely to suffer from balance problems and falls. This can be mitigated through balance and stability types of exercises. Doing these kinds of activities helps to retrain the brain, strengthen muscles, retrain the balance system, and improve the health of blood vessels and nerves.
If you’re looking for something beyond the traditional exercise channels, yoga has plenty of benefits. It has been shown to reduce blood pressure, strengthen nerves, improve flexibility, and encourage a mindfulness technique that can help in managing any discomfort from a condition such as neuropathy.
Be Aware and Be Careful
If you suffer from neuropathy of the feet, it’s important to be aware of how it can affect your physicality. People with diabetes are more likely to fall, sprain their ankles, and have other movement-related issues.
By engaging in some simple exercises that are all designed for beginners and those with lower levels of fitness, the following can be improved:
- Blood circulation to peripheral areas such as hands and feet
- Improved blood vessel health
- Improved nerve health due to greater levels of oxygenation and more nutrients
By combining the right exercises with a healthy diet rich in fruits and vegetables, along with taking quality nerve support supplements, you can find relief from the constant burning and tingling and begin returning to a normal life.