Diabetes Self-Management Blog

Regular exercise can reduce the development of painful neuropathy thanks to increased amounts of a protective substance called heat shock protein 72 (Hsp72), according to a new animal study published in the journal Anesthesia & Analgesia.

Affecting up to 70% of people with diabetes, neuropathy is a type of nerve damage that can cause pain, tingling, numbness, and other uncomfortable sensations in the feet, hands, arms, and legs. Previous research has indicated that exercise can help reduce the pain associated with diabetes-related neuropathy.

To determine how physical activity might reduce pain from nerve damage, researchers looked at the effects of exercise on rats with chemically-induced diabetes. Several weeks after developing diabetes, a number of the animals were assigned to a treadmill exercise program. Within two weeks, the animals that were not included in the exercise program were displaying abnormal responses to temperature and pressure — two characteristic signs of neuropathy.

Earlier studies have suggested that neuropathy pain might be related to certain inflammation-causing substances such as tumor necrosis factor-alpha and interleukin-6, but levels of these chemicals did not differ between the rats that were exercising versus the non-exercising rats. However, rats that had been assigned to the treadmill program did show an increase in Hsp72, a protein that plays important roles in protecting against cellular damage.

The new findings may help scientist develop new, nondrug treatments that can “delay or protect against the development of diabetic peripheral nerve complications,” according to the study authors.

For more information, read the article “Exercise May Slow Development of Diabetic Nerve Pain” or see the study’s abstract from Anesthesia & Analgesia. And to learn more about managing neuropathy pain, see the piece “Coping With Painful Neuropathy.”

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