Foot neuropathy is a common problem for seniors, and knowing how to manage this condition can be challenging.
While this problem can be caused by various factors and can significantly impact your daily activities and quality of life, there are exercises you can use to help improve the health of your feet.
Let’s explore some causes of foot neuropathy, how exercise can help you feel your best, and tips for maximizing your workout while managing foot neuropathy.
What is Foot Neuropathy?
Foot neuropathy is a specific type of peripheral neuropathy, which describes damage to the nerves that connect your central nervous system to the rest of your body. Foot neuropathy directly affects the nerves that control sensation and muscles in your feet. (1)
Foot neuropathy can look different from person to person, but some of the common symptoms are numbness, tingling, burning, and pain in the feet and calf muscles. As foot neuropathy progresses, it can involve weakness and loss of balance or steadiness. (2)
This combination of sensation, strength, and balance problems can affect your quality of life and confidence during your daily activities.
Causes of Foot Neuropathy
There are many causes of foot neuropathy, but some of the most common are diabetes, alcoholism, and side effects from certain medications.
Diabetes is a complicated condition that impacts your body’s ability to regulate blood sugar. Some people are born with this condition, while others will develop it later in life due to their diet and lifestyle.
When diabetes results in high blood sugar for long periods, the nerves of the arms and legs can become damaged, causing gradual loss of nerve conduction and function.
Diabetes can be managed using exercise, diet changes, and medications that may help slow or stop the progression of neuropathy in your feet. (3)
Alcohol has numerous effects on the brain and body, but it’s mainly a toxin that can damage many parts of our health. (4)
If you drink large amounts of alcohol regularly, the nerves of your body do not have enough time to recover from alcohol-related damage. In turn, normal signaling in your nerves will slowly become more impaired over time until symptoms of numbness and weakness begin to show.
Alcoholism is difficult; talk with your doctor if you have concerns.
Side Effects from Medication
When certain medications cause neuropathy, it is called drug-induced peripheral neuropathy. Common medicines that can cause neuropathy include cancer or cardiovascular drugs and antimicrobials. (5)
Talk to your doctor about your prescriptions regularly to ensure new medications do not impact your foot neuropathy.
How Exercise Improves Neuropathy
Exercise is a powerful tool for improving your symptoms of foot neuropathy. Exercising the muscles and nerves in your feet can help you improve balance, coordination, and confidence in your daily life. With the right precautions, exercise provides home remedies for neuropathy.
One significant benefit of foot exercise for neuropathy is increased circulation, which can help to reduce pain and improve nerve function in your feet.
When you exercise with your feet, ankles, and calves, the muscles surrounding your veins create a “pump” action that promotes blood returning to your heart. New blood can then enter your feet more often, providing your nerves with essential nutrients that help them function.
Special Considerations for Exercises for Foot Neuropathy
When exercising with foot neuropathy, there are a few things to consider for your safety:
Start with gentle stretching and range-of-motion exercises, gradually increasing the intensity and duration of your activity over time. You may only realize you are causing damage the day after your workout when muscle pain intensifies.
Avoid exercises like running and jumping that put excessive pressure or force on your feet. When you have limited sensation in your feet, it can be difficult to tell if you are hurting your feet during exercise. Additionally, check the bottom of your feet after trying a new activity to ensure no further injuries.
Reduced foot sensation can impact your sense of balance and increase your fall risk. When you are performing an exercise that challenges your balance, make sure to stay close to a wall or counter. If you are concerned that you cannot practice balance exercises safely, work with a physical therapist who can supervise you for added safety.
A good insole or custom shoe orthotic can make a big difference in comfort and be a benefit when exercising with foot neuropathy. We highly recommend the Superfeet brand, which is the only OTC insole we sell at our clinics. The sturdy arch support along with good cushioning distributes the force on the foot to lessen pain and provide a more stable base.
Our recommendations are the same items we trust and prescribe to patients. When you buy through links like this on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission to support new content.
As with any exercise program, talk to a doctor or physical therapist to determine the best exercise plan for your specific needs.
3 Exercises for Foot Neuropathy
Having the right exercise program is essential for getting the best results possible. Here are some easy exercises that can help to improve your symptoms of foot neuropathy:
Start by lying with your feet hanging off the edge of a table or sitting with your legs propped up in front of you.
Slowly “pump” your ankles by bending your foot toward your head as far as you can, then away from your body as far as you can.
For added difficulty, you can perform this exercise with your feet on the ground or while standing. Aim to complete 10-30 repetitions several times per day.
Start by sitting in a chair and placing a towel on the floor underneath one foot. Now, slowly curl the length of the towel towards your heel using only your toes, attempting to “scrunch” the towel up, moving it as far as you can without pain.
Hold this position briefly before you relax and return to the start. Repeat the exercise until your foot becomes fatigued, and aim to do this a few times daily.
Single Leg Balance
Start by standing in front of a counter or wall with comfortable footwear or barefoot. Slowly remove one foot from the floor and begin standing on the remaining foot, keeping your foot flat.
Hold this position until your foot, ankle, or leg becomes fatigued—stop immediately if you are about to lose your balance or fall over.
You can make this exercise easier by keeping the toes of the lifted foot on the ground for added balance support or more challenging by closing your eyes. Remember to practice balance & foot exercises with a sturdy chair or nearby stable surface for safety.
Foot neuropathy can be challenging for senior citizens, but exercise can play a crucial role in improving your symptoms.
By exercising the muscles in your feet, increasing circulation to your nerves, and making small lifestyle changes, you can work to manage your foot neuropathy and improve your overall quality of life.
Hyer CF, Lee TH, Philbin TM, Berlet GC. Diabetic neuropathy: the painful foot. Foot Ankle Clin. 2004;9(2):221-237. doi:10.1016/j.fcl.2004.01.002 https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15165579/
What is Diabetes? (CDC). https://www.cdc.gov/diabetes/basics/diabetes.html
Khan KS, Andersen H. The Impact of Diabetic Neuropathy on Activities of Daily Living, Postural Balance and Risk of Falls – A Systematic Review. J Diabetes Sci Technol. 2022;16(2):289-294. doi:10.1177/1932296821997921 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8861804/
Facts About Moderate Drinking (CDC)
Jones MR, Urits I, Wolf J, et al. Drug-Induced Peripheral Neuropathy: A Narrative Review. Curr Clin Pharmacol. 2020;15(1):38-48. doi:10.2174/1574884714666190121154813 https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30666914/