Exercise to Ease Pain from DPN

brobinsonDiabetes, Diabetes Exercise, Diabetes Lifestyle

DPN, or Diabetic Peripheral Neuropathy, develops in 60% – 70% of people with Diabetes.1 Your age and the length of time you have had Diabetes with high blood sugar contribute to your risk for developing painful nerve damage in your legs and feet.

DPN can lead to skin breakdown, less ability to walk or climb stairs, and even amputation.  So, its important to have your legs and feet checked by your doctor and to talk with him or her about exercise, especially if you already experience nerve pain in your legs or feet.

Benefits of Exercise for DPN

  • Regular physical activity can help you lose weight, which can slow the progression of pain by reducing inflammation throughout your body.
  • Exercise can also help reduce your blood sugar levels. People with type 2 Diabetes have too much glucose in their blood, either because the body does not produce enough insulin to process blood sugar, or because the body does not use the insulin properly (this is called insulin resistance).  Exercise ensures your muscles get the glucose they need and the amount of glucose in your blood goes down – both for people who do not produce enough insulin and for people whose bodies do not use it properly.  Think of physical activity as a sponge that helps soak up excess sugar.  When your muscles contract, your body sends out sugar-moving proteins that carry sugar molecules from your bloodstream into your cells.  This process does not rely on insulin, the hormone that tells your cells to let blood sugar in.  Exercise also makes your cells more likely to obey insulin’s message to let blood sugar into your cells.
  • Exercise helps keep your heart healthy and strong.
  • Exercise helps lower your cholesterol and prevent hardening of the arteries. It also helps lower blood pressure.
  • Exercise is a natural stress buster! It helps reduce emotional stress that can lead to high cortisol levels, a hormone that triggers inflammation in your body and can worsen blood sugar control.
  • Exercise helps DPN. While the benefits of exercise for people with Diabetes are well-established, only recently has research shown the beneficial effects for people who suffer with nerve pain in their legs and feet from Diabetes nerve damage. Previously, doctors were concerned that weight-bearing exercises and even walking might injure someone who was experiencing numbness in their feet from DPN.  Now, research has shown that people with DPN who exercised actually had improved function.2

A Dozen Low Impact Exercises for DPN

It may seem challenging to start exercising when you experience varying forms of pain (burning, shooting, tingling), weakness and loss of balance from DPN. But having a good plan for physical activity can get you moving in healthful ways.  A combination of different types of exercises – cardio, strength, flexibility and balance – provide the most overall benefit. Discuss the types of exercises you want to try with your doctor to ensure they will be safe for you with DPN or any other health conditions you may have.  The American Diabetes Association advises 30 minutes a day of activity, five days a week.  If you can’t do 30 minutes all at once, think about doing 10 minutes of yard work, 10 minutes of housework and a 10 minute walk after dinner. Start with simple things like parking farther away, and build up slowly.

Low-impact exercises that help DPN nerve pain:

  • Swimming and water aerobics
  • Yoga and Tai chi
  • Walking
  • Dancing
  • Stationary bike
  • Rowing
  • Circuit training machines
  • Calf Raises
  • Standing Knee Raises
  • Leg Raises
  • Calf and Hamstring Stretches
  • Toe Tapping

Ease into Exercise with DPN

Before you get started, ask your doctor if exercise will affect your meals, insulin or diabetes medications and how often you need to check your blood sugar before, during and after your workout and what you may need to eat or drink during your workouts. Start small and set goals that are achievable. Wear the proper footwear and make sure you check your feet for redness, swelling and ulceration after exercising.  Managing a lifelong condition such as Diabetes means being active for the long-term. You may want to join a group to keep it social and stay committed, or pair up with a friend or neighbor.  You can avoid boredom or feeling like exercise is work, by keeping it fresh and trying different things. Remember to have fun!


  1. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disease. https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/diabetes/overview/preventing-problems/nerve-damage-diabetic-neuropathies. Accessed on February 1, 2018.
  2. Kluding PM, Bareiss SK, Hastings M, Marcus RL, Sinacore DR, Mueller MJ. Physical Training and Activity in People with Diabetic Peripheral Neuropathy: Paradigm Shift. Phys Ther. 2017 Jan 1; 97(1) Accessed on PubMed on February 1, 2018.
  3. Erika Gebel, PhD. 2011. Understanding Insulin Resistance. Diabetes Forecast. Accessed at www.diabetesforecast.org on February 1, 2018.