Fact or Myth: Does Exercise Aggravate Nerve Pain?

This is a MYTH.

There are many misconceptions about exercise and nerve pain. Many who suffer from chronic pain believe exercise will worsen their condition, but the opposite is actually true.

What is Neuropathic Pain?

Chronic neuropathic pain develops from injury that results in nerve damage.

Damaged nerves at or nearby the original injury become dysfunctional and continue to send pain signals to the brain – even after the injury has healed. Patients diagnosed with neuropathic pain have described the sensations as sharp and severe, a radiating burning or a tingling often accompanied by an uncomfortable numbness.

One example of this condition is phantom limb syndrome after amputation. The damaged nerves closest to the missing limb get stuck in the “on” position and broadcast that the missing appendage continues to throb and, ache, even though there is no longer a limb to feel those sensations.

Patients feel neuropathic pain and the condition rarely responds to traditional pain medication. The condition can gradually worsen – resulting in disability. Some treatment options include prescription anti-inflammatories, antidepressants, anti-epileptics, surgery and electrical stimulation of the nerves.

Neuropathic Pain Causes

The Mental Connection to Physical Pain

Neuropathy is difficult to treat when there is no longer a physical injury to address. Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine conducted a focused study on communication between two areas of the brain – the frontal cortex and the nucleus accumbens. These areas determine if an injury will heal normally or result in chronic pain.

The general belief in the scientific community is that chronic pain is a combination of the original injury to the body and how our brains process the pain signals. exercise and nerve pain

Two people with a similar injury may heal physically at the same rate; yet one may experience neuropathy while the other does not.

Hope for Nerve Pain with Exercise

New research from the China Medical University found that mice with nerve damage experienced a 30-50% reduction in pain by swimming and running on a treadmill. Subjects also experienced fewer irregular responses to common markers of neuropathic pain, such as applied pressure and temperature.

Animals subjected to a regular exercise routine did not develop neuropathy, while mice that did not exercise developed neuropathy within two weeks.

Exercise increases production of a compound called “heat-shock protein 72” (Hsp72), which lessens inflammation without the use of pharmaceuticals. Hsp72 is one of a group of essential proteins that protects cells from damage caused by outside stress.

Inflammation is considered one of the primary physical contributors of chronic pain after injury.

Diabetes is one of the most common causes of neuropathic pain. Controlling this condition is crucial to controlling neuropathy. Exercise was found to “markedly decrease diabetes associated neuropathic pain,” according to Yu-Wen Chen, PhD, lead author of the study, which was published in the medical journal Anesthesia & Analgesia. The exercising diabetic subjects also showed better regulation of blood sugar.

Natural Pain Management

Science could be years from understanding exactly how chronic pain works – and finding ways to completely cure it. Initial studies utilizing exercise to control nerve pain are incredibly promising.

Talk to your doctor about other natural methods to control your pain, such as diet, stress management and dry needling .

When you live with pain that never ends, finding ways to lessen the symptoms – and reduce further nerve damage – can make the difference in your overall quality of life.