Regular excercise such as swimming is good for neuropathic pain
People with diabetes are very prone to developing neuropathy – damage to nerves – which causes numbness and pain. Numbness is a problem because it means you may not notice when you’ve injured yourself, but the pain associated with diabetic neuropathy is ongoing. Now a study from China Medical University, Taiwan, has found that exercise may help by reducing levels of inflammation.
Using rats as study subjects, the researchers induced sciatic nerve injury and then got one group of animals exercise to swim or run on a treadmill for several weeks while another group didn’t do any similar exercise. By observing pain behaviours in the rats, they found there was a significant reduction in neuropathic pain. Usually, when suffering neuropathic pain, the rats would show abnormal responses to temperature and pressure, but the exercised rats showed a more normal response, indicating lower pain levels. When the researchers checked the rats’ levels of cytotokine - a substance that promotes inflammation – they found they were lowered by exercise. The physical activity also helped to increase levels of a protein called ‘heat shock protein-27’, which the researchers believe may have helped reduce cytokine levels.
Based on the rats’ responses to exercise, the researchers say that it would be a valid and effective treatment for human patients with neuropathy. It didn’t eliminate pain completely but reduced abnormal pain responses by 30 to 50%. As the study also indicates that inflammation worsens or is the main cause of neuropathic pain, future medications could focus on this to help reduce the symptoms.