Tingling, prickling, and sensation loss in the feet can be a dangerous, frustrating, and even scary situation no matter who you are or what you love to do. But for runners, peripheral neuropathy may be especially concerning.
In the early to middle stages of the disease, it may simply be the case that persistent foot pain makes running medium to long (or even short) distances too uncomfortable to enjoy. But as sensation slowly drains away and numbness sets in, the risk of all kinds of injuries—from minor to severe—continues to rise.
Whether or not you are able to keep running with neuropathy is a decision you’ll have to make between you and your doctor, and will depend on your symptoms and your goals. However, the good news is that many people are able to continue running with the right set of precautions and modifications.
But first, let’s talk about what can happen if you don’t take those precautions.
The Dangers: Running with Neuropathy
Now, to be clear, we want to support the runners in our community and help them continue with their favorite form of exercise for as long as possible, even if they have neuropathy. But the risks are real.
For example, if you can’t really feel the way your feet are fitting inside your shoe, you’re more likely to not notice friction and pressure spots. As you continue to run, those sources of unwelcome contact could develop into blisters, toenail injuries, or even ulcers.
At the same time, peripheral neuropathy can make you less steady on your feet and less able to judge the terrain beneath you, increasing your chances of stumbling or falling. And it can also alter your running gait, introducing biomechanical flaws into your mechanics that could trigger pain throughout the legs and back.
Other related problems might include a loss of strength or coordination (which may be symmetrical or asymmetrical between legs) or decreased joint flexibility.
Keeping You Running (if Possible)
If you love to run and notice the symptoms of peripheral neuropathy, please come visit Dr. Sanjay Patel (or another appropriate specialist) right away. We’re going to do everything we can to address these issues and keep you running as long as possible, as safely as possible.
Here are some treatments, advice, and tactics we may recommend to help you achieve that goal:
Manage the underlying conditions.
Some cases of neuropathy are idiopathic, meaning we don’t know why they occur. But in most cases there’s another set of conditions behind the scenes accelerating the nerve damage, such as diabetes or nutritional deficits. It’s important that you get these situations under control as much as possible so that you can slow or halt the progression of your neuropathy.
Get the right equipment.
It’s absolutely critical that you have a great pair of running shoes if you want to run with neuropathy. Getting the fit exactly right (including length and width, and considering your gait mechanics as well) is necessary, and you’re also going to want to make sure they have plenty of shock absorption to cushion your steps.
We are happy to perform a gait analysis and help you find a pair of running shoes that are right for you. We may also recommend:
- A good pair of moisture-wicking socks, ideally without seams or stitches (to remove unnecessary sources of irritation and friction)
- Specific arch supports or custom orthotics that correct biomechanical flaws and relieve pressure points.
- Athletic braces to protect vulnerable joints and improve stability.
Keep yourself conditioned.
Feet and bodies that haven’t been properly prepared for running are far more likely to suffer injuries, whether you have neuropathy or not. It’s best to start slow, at a pace you’re confident you can handle—even if that’s just brisk walking or alternating between walking and a light jog.
As your strength, coordination, and fitness improve, you can begin to increase the length, speed, and intensity of your runs gradually—but by no more than 10-15 percent per week.
At the same time, it’s important to keep working on the strength and flexibility of your ankles and legs during your off-day workouts. Basically, you want to maximize (within reason) the physical skills you do have in order to compensate for the deficits, and also keep those deficits from declining at a faster rate.
Take time for self-inspections.
Anyone with neuropathy should be checking their feet at least once per day for signs of injury or distress—swelling, cuts, blisters, etc. The reason for this is simple. If you can’t feel your feet, you might not notice right away if you get hurt. And if you don’t catch an injury soon enough, it could develop into a much more serious injury, ulcer, or infection.
However, runners should be extra vigilant about self-inspections, since running is by nature a high-impact activity that can lead to foot injuries. You should always inspect your feet carefully before your run (to make sure they are in good enough shape to do so) and after (so you can identify and address any changes or injuries immediately).
What If I Can’t Run?
Again, we’ll do everything we can to keep you running safely for as long as possible. However, it may come to the point where we (or you) might feel a different plan or approach is warranted.
For example, it may be worth considering how important running is to you specifically, or if you might find an alternative form of exercise equally meaningful or fulfilling. For example, riding a bicycle can provide many of the same fitness benefits and allow you to continue to enjoy the fresh air and great outdoors, without as much stress and risk to your feet.
Obviously, this will depend greatly on the symptoms and status of your neuropathy, your lifestyle goals, and your commitment to taking whatever precautions may be necessary to partake in your preferred activities as safely as possible.
And that’s why scheduling an appointment with our team is so critical. We can help you work through these issues and make wise choices for your future fitness and health, through providing excellent neuropathy care and personalized recommendations.
Running with neuropathy is possible, even if it does require a little more planning and inconvenience. So don’t let neuropathy get in the way of practicing your favorite activities! Schedule an appointment with Family Foot Care & Surgery today by calling (203) 876-7736; you can also request an appointment online.