Peripheral Neuropathy: Can Exercise Help?

Kate Williams Balance Training, Exercise Oncology, Neuropathy, News, Side Effects

Chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy (CIPN) is a common side effect of several chemo agents (we’re looking at you, Oxaliplatin, Taxanes and Vinca Alkaloids) which can resolve after several months or linger permanently. It is characterised by pain and/or altered sensations (tingling, numbness or pins and needles), most often in the extremities (hands and feet) but sometimes in areas closer to the body.

CIPN can lead to weakness, impaired balance and mobility and a higher risk of falling, making once routine daily activities suddenly seem difficult or dangerous. On top of this, CIPN can be a limiting factor for treatment – if severe it can delay therapy, necessitate a reduction in drug dosage or even cause treatment to be stopped completely. This of course can unfortunately negatively affect treatment outcome and survival.

Until recently most research for CIPN has focussed on pharmaceutical interventions, which can sometimes help with pain. But these drugs often come with their own set of side effects and don’t necessarily assist with the decline in day-to-day functioning.

However a 2014 study of reasonable validity conducted on Lymphoma patients was able to demonstrate that a program of sensorimotor (nerve-stimulating), endurance and strength training exercises performed twice per week was able to significantly decrease pain, whilst also improving balance, level of activity and quality of life. Good news!

To round this one up, the answer to the title question is quite possibly: whilst the evidence remains low, the results are promising. Given that the study also determined the exercise intervention to be not only beneficial but certainly safe for participants, a tailored exercise prescription should be sought if you suffer from CIPN. Aside from the specificity of the exercises required, there are precautions to exercising with neuropathy, including avoiding high impact and high falls-risk activities. Ensure you seek the guidance of an Accredited Exercise Physiologist for yourself or your loved one when considering exercise as a supportive therapy for CIPN.

Streckman F, Kneis S, Leifert JA, et al. Exercise program improves therapy-related side-effects and quality of life in lymphoma patients undergoing therapy. Ann Oncol. 2014;25(2):493-9, doi: 10.1093/annonc/mdt568