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.
There are mainly three issues for people with diabetes and neuropathy and running or exercising in general.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
Cushioning and shock-absorbing soles are important, especially for running shoes.
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.
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.
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!