Exercises for people with peripheral neuropathy


You know that exercise is an important part of diabetes care because it helps you reduce insulin resistance and it improves blood glucose levels. But what happens if you have peripheral neuropathy? Can you exercise? What workouts can you do safely? We’re answering your questions here.

One of the common diabetes complications is peripheral neuropathy. It causes damage to the nerves outside of the central nervous system. Neuropathy can affect the nerves that provide feeling (sensory neuropathy) or cause movement (motor neuropathy). If it affects both, it is called sensory-motor neuropathy.

Sensory-motor polyneuropathy is a process that damages neurons, nerve fibers (axons) and insulated covers around the nerves (myelin sheath). It causes a delay in the conduction of nerve signals and can cause the nerve to stop working, causing pain, tingling or numbness, muscle weakness and fatigue. 

Exercising with Diabetic Neuropathy

Regular exercise helps anyone because it will help reduce blood glucose levels, it will help maintain a healthy weight and is an energy and mood booster.

When you have nerve damage, exercising is painful. Therefore, there’s hardly an incentive to do it consistently.  

According to a study in the Journal of Diabetes Complications, if there is a presence of pain in the feet, arms, hands and/or legs, exercise can cause a delay in nerve damage. Which means that, even if it causes pain, it is more useful to exercise moderately four times a week as opposed to no physical activity at all.

When you decide to start an exercise program if you have diabetic neuropathy consider these factors:

  • Visiting your doctor if you suspect neuropathy or if you feel pain in your arms, legs, or arms and have your doctor perform a physical exam. 
  • Check your blood glucose levels before and after exercising to recognize how your body reacts to physical activity and your doctor can make adjustments.
  • Avoid high-impact exercise, involving jumping such as basketball or running.
  • Choose low-impact exercises such as swimming, cycling, yoga, or pilates to relieve pressure on your nerves.
  • Some weightless strengthening exercises such as resistance bands, moderately improve muscle strength in people with neuropathy.
  • Check your sports shoes and socks for sharp objects.
  • Consider purchasing diabetic socks and shoes. 
  • Check your feet after exercising for any cuts and bruises. 

WRITTEN BY Eugenia Araiza, CDE Nutritionist, POSTED 12/21/19, UPDATED 12/11/22

Eugenia has a degree in diabetes nutrition and she is a diabetes educator. She was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes 23 years ago, she is the creator of Healthy Diabetes. She enjoys studying and helping others manage their different types of diabetes. She loves the studies and management of type 1 diabetes and nutrition. She enjoys writing especially about the impact of diabetes on her life. She lives surrounded by love with a family integrated by Luis Felipe, who lives with latent autoimmune diabetes in adults (LADA) type diabetes, and their teenage son, Indigo.