Everyone knows the abundance of benefits that accompanies exercise. A new experimental study published in Anesthesia & Analgesia suggests that in addition to the known benefits, exercise also helps to alleviate pain related to nerve damage. Pain related to nerve damage, known as neuropathic pain, is quite common and it is difficult to treat. This pain is seen in patients with trauma, diabetes, and other conditions. An example of neuropathic pain is the phantom limb pain that sometimes follows amputation. Neuropathic pain often causes a burning pain and numbness that conventional pain medicines do little to alleviate. Antidepressants and antiepileptic drugs have been shown to help, but the side effects of those sometimes outweigh the benefits. As such the new study was of great potential interest.
The experimental study was conducted on rats that suffered from neuropathic pain induced by a sciatic nerve injury. Upon nerve injury, the animals performed a form of progressive exercises by either running on a treadmill or swimming. These animals performed the exercise for a few weeks, and the researchers monitored them closely.2
The results concluded from observing the rats were that there was a significant reduction in neuropathic pain in the rats of either group, treadmill running or swimming. It did not eliminate the pain completely, but the pain responses were reduced by 30 to 50 percent. Exercise reduced characteristics of neuropathic pain by reducing abnormal responses to temperature and pressure.3
An additional finding consistent with results from previous studies was that exercise leads to a reduced expression of inflammation-promoting cytokines in the development of neuropathic pain in response to nerve injury. Additionally, exercise also led to an increased expression of a protein known as heat chock protein-27, which may have aided in the reductions of cytokine expression.4
This study provides new evidence that the main culprit for the development of neuropathic pain is inflammation. It is reassuring to hear there is an alternative method to dealing with neuropathic pain that does not involve medications and the side effects that accompany them. Exercise provides extensive health benefits, and the fact it can even be used as a treatment for something such as neuropathic pain adds to that extensive list. As more research is done, hopefully scientists figure out a way to use exercise to alleviate the pain associated with neuropathy to an even greater extent.5