Running with Neuropathy: A Healthy Approach

Should you be running with neuropathy?

Running with neuropathy is a difficult topic. On one side, if you have diabetes, you surely have heard over and over that physical exercising is good for you. On the other hand, the pain that neuropathy can cause (and over 50% of people with diabetes do have peripheral neuropathy), is not helpful at all in motivating. 

Or maybe you used to be an avid runner, and the neuropathy complications have made it difficult to keep up with your passion? 

Either way, the decision to be running with neuropathy or engage in any cardio-focused exercise, needs to be planned and carefully managed. Let’s have a look at whether you should run or not, and if you intend to, what crucial topics need to be considered.

Table of Contents

Why is running with Neuropathy so hard?

There are mainly three issues for people with diabetes and neuropathy and running or exercising in general. 

Blood glucose control

If you are engaging in any form of exercising as a person with diabetes, you obviously must consider the impact it will have on your blood glucose. 

Running, longer walks, cycling, swimming, or any kind of exercise really will drive the cells in your body to be more receptive to the glucose in your blood and therefore lower the concentration.

To avoid hypoglycemia, measure your blood glucose before exercising, make sure you have some fast-acting carbs with you, and, importantly, talk with your healthcare professional first. 

This might not be difficult for people with diabetes who know their body, and routines and manage their blood glucose well. But it can be an additional complication if you intend to run. 

Severe foot pain

If you already suffer from various levels of foot pain, running with neuropathy surely does sound like a stupid idea. 

There are indeed also studies that have shown that excessive exercising can have negative impacts on neuropathy.

The keyword here however is ‘excessive’. Exercising can be done in various forms, and durations and with the right gear, the pain does not have to be an issue. That depends on your personal situation of course – again, whether or not physical exercising such as runs are suitable for you, is something that should initially be discussed with your HCP.

The wrong gear and / or not taking care of your feet

Just slipping into random running shoes and taking a shower after the run is unfortunately not possible for people with peripheral neuropathy.

The shoes and socks need to be chosen carefully. Even with the right gear, you should make sure to stick to a routine of checking your feet daily, especially after exercising. Examine both feet in detail: Are there any pressure points? Did the shoes sit well or is there too much friction at the heel or ankles? 

Solid foot care is a must. Read our guidelines on diabetic footcare here to learn more.

Why you still should consider running with neuropathy

Assuming your doctor has cleared you for running or maybe just regular walks, you might still ask yourself: Why should I even exercise? Don’t my feet already have enough to endure? 

After all, exercising is a motivational problem for most people, why should a person with diabetes and neuropathy of all people have to run?

To put it simply: Health science is positive about the effects of exercising with neuropathy.  There are various studies, articles and discourses on the topic. We’d like to mention just a few:

  1. Aerobic exercise improves measures of vascular health in diabetic peripheral neuropathy (2016)

  2. Physical Training and Activity in People With Diabetic Peripheral Neuropathy: Paradigm Shift (2017)

  3. Benefits of exercise intervention in reducing neuropathic pain (2014)

There are many more. To put it simply: Yes, running with diabetic neuropathy is not easy, but it may well be worth the effort. Unfortunately, there is no way of reversing already existing nerve damage caused by neuropathy.

But it seems that science is clearly showing the benefits of exercising for your health, even under the difficult conditions of someone with diabetes.

Four guidelines for physical exercise with neuropathy

So we established that physical activity such as running has its benefits – for both general health aspects and specifically blood circulation to combat peripheral neuropathy. 

Besides your HCP’s inputs, here are four guidelines.

1. Start small

Don’t jump into cold water, especially as an inexperienced runner. Start small. 

Instead of running a few miles, you can start by walking around the block. Set yourself an achievable goal. This will help make your exercise a habit (and, therefore, keep it instead of quitting after a few attempts) and give you time to see how your feet feel.

Do you experience pain? If you check your feet later after exercising, are there any bruises or blisters?

Once you get comfortable with regular walks, you can increase the duration, add a block, or maybe increase the speed. Keep checking your feet and make sure you are not progressing too fast. 

Read the guidelines to get started on physical exercise by the American Diabetes Association for further, clear input.

2. Get the right shoes 

If you have diabetes and neuropathy, you are already aware of the importance of correctly wearing shoes that support your feet. 

For running with neuropathy or any exercise, it is even more important to wear the right shoes. 

  • If the shoes aren’t the right size or are a bit lose, you might see friction.
  • Running or fast walking means a more substantial impact. Cushioning and shock absorption must be solid.
  • You should not feel pain. If your feet always hurt, you’re most likely not going to keep exercising. Balance is critical – and everything depends on your situation. 
  • Make sure no pressure points lead to bruises or blisters when wearing shoes for longer hikes or runs.
 
Here’s a link to an article presenting some of the best shoes for neuropathy for everyday use. An updated article with recommendations for running shoes is in the works!
Shock absorbing shoes are a must for running with neuropathy

Cushioning and shock-absorbing soles are important, especially for running shoes.

3. Get the right socks

After the shoes, this might be a no-brainer: You also need the right socks to exercise properly. Exercising means sweating, which is normal – but as a person with diabetes, you might sweat more than normal.

The result: You need to wear socks that are moisture-wicking, again to reduce friction. Diabetic socks made from bamboo, nano, or Coolmax are the best choices. 

4. Examine your feet

We’ve already mentioned this, so we can keep number four short and sweet: Keep checking your feet every day, but especially on days (or days after) you’ve had a run, longer hike or even workdays wearing the same shoes. 

Conclusion

Racking up miles on foot might not be the ideal solution for everybody.

Whether or not running or hiking is good for you depends on a lot of factors. The status of your neuropathy, your doctor’s recommendations, the footwear you have available, and your personal motivation play a role.

It is clear though that physical exercise, especially aerobic elements, can help people with diabetes combat foot pain, lose weight and help with general fitness. 

Stay tuned for an in-depth guide on the best running shoes!