Peripheral Neuropathy and Exercise

Peripheral neuropathy may occur during or after treatment for cancer. The numbness and pain from the damaged nerves can affect your balance and coordination making exercise more challenging. If your symptoms are severe, consult with your oncology team to determine if a referral to a physical therapist would be your first step in becoming more active.  The good news – research suggests and increasingly often documents that exercise can help to reduce your pain and increase your range of motion.

Exercising on a recumbent bike may be a better option than walking outside on uneven surfaces if you are experiencing balance problems. Avoid high-impact, repetitive exercises, such as jogging or step aerobics, as those activities could lead to fractures in the feet. You may experience some challenges in a resistance program due to pain from holding weights. Remember,  a “white knuckle” grip on the weights isn’t necessary, just hold them firmly.  You can always pad the dumbbells by  wrapping a wash cloth around the middle to increase the diameter of the shaft.

The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) and the American Cancer Society (ACS) recommend 30 minutes, 5 times a week of moderate exercise, or 30 minutes of vigorous exercise 3 times a week.  If you are experiencing fatigue from treatment, break up your exercise into 10 or 15 minute segments and spread it out during the day.  You’ll benefit from three days a week of cardio exercise and 2 days a week of resistance exercise.  Important:  rest for 1 or 2  days between your resistance workouts.   When putting together a resistance workout, strive for a minimum of 1 set of 10-15 repetitions for each major muscle group,  i.e., back, chest, legs, shoulders, arms, core. Stretch out after each workout. Keep in mind, if you have a port, catheter, or PICC line   avoid resistance work for that muscle. For example, if the port is in the chest, eliminate the chest work (chest fly or chest press). Of course, you can do the exercise on the side not affected by the port, and on the port side, just go through the range of motion.


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