As many as 70% of people with diabetes are estimated to have diabetic neuropathy, and pain from the condition is notoriously difficult to treat. But a small new study from researchers at the University of Kansas Medical Center suggests that aerobic exercise may reduce the degree to which pain from the condition interferes with daily life.
Although the benefits of exercise for diabetes management and general health are well known, the effects of physical activity on diabetic peripheral neuropathy specifically have not been thoroughly researched. To examine the effect of aerobic exercise (activities such as walking or swimming in which oxygen fuels muscles) on pain in people with diabetic neuropathy, the investigators enrolled 14 sedentary people in a 16-week, supervised aerobic exercise program. The participants had an average age of 57, and all had painful diabetic peripheral neuropathy. Pain intensity and the effects of that pain on daily life in areas such as activities, mood, walking, normal work, relationships, sleep, and enjoyment of life were assessed at the beginning and end of the study.
The researchers found that, although pain intensity had not changed by the end of the program, participants reported significant reductions in how much pain interfered with their walking, normal work, relationships with others, sleep, and how much pain interfered with their life overall.
“These preliminary results suggest that perceived pain interference may be reduced following an aerobic exercise intervention program among people with painful [diabetic peripheral neuropathy], without a change in pain intensity,” the researchers note. “Further validation by a randomized controlled trial is needed.”
For more information, see the article, “Exercise Cuts Diabetic Neuropathy Pain Perception,” or see the study’s abstract in the journal Pain Medicine. And to learn more about dealing with painful neuropathy, see the piece “Controlling Neuropathic Pain: Tips From an Occupational Therapist.”