Neuropathy refers to symptoms caused by nerve damage, such as severe and chronic pain, tingling, numbness, cramps, and weakness. Physical therapy may be able to help reduce the symptoms of neuropathy. However, more high quality research is required.

Research into the effects of physical therapy on neuropathy is ongoing. Researchers have found that physical therapy may reduce some of the symptoms of neuropathy and improve a person’s quality of life.

However, evidence of these effects is limited. Studies on the efficacy of physical therapy to treat neuropathy are of mixed quality, and some may be unreliable.

This article examines whether physical therapy can help treat neuropathy and what kind of physical therapist a person may need. It also looks at exercises, finding a physical therapist, and covering the cost of physical therapy.

A person undergoing physical therapy to treat neuropathic pain 1Share on Pinterest
Luis Alvarez/Getty Images

According to a 2021 systematic review and expert consensus, physical therapy can help reduce the intensity of neuropathy symptoms.

Authors of a different 2021 review note that physical therapy may be helpful as a complementary treatment when performed while taking medications to treat both the underlying causes and the neuropathic pain.

The authors also state that further research is required to define the treatment strategy for neuropathy.

How can it help?

Specific exercise programs may help alleviate pain, improve physical well-being, and aid in the recovery of damaged nerves, which may all effectively improve symptoms of neuropathy.

However, the various potential causes of neuropathy have a range of characteristics and may cause different individuals to respond to exercise and treatment in different ways.

Different exercise programs, and exercises of different intensity levels and frequency, can also produce a range of effects in people with neuropathy.

For these reasons, people must work with a physical therapist to develop an individualized exercise program that best suits their needs.

Exercise may help improve symptoms of neuropathy in several ways. These include:

  • Increasing blood flow and decreasing vasoconstriction: Vasoconstriction occurs when muscles around the blood vessels tighten and shrink the space inside them. Increased blood flow and circulation may help alleviate neuropathic pain.
  • Increasing muscle strength: This can help improve symptoms of neuropathy, such as weakness.
  • Improving balance: Improving balance can help decrease the risk of fall and injury.

A person with neuropathy should contact a neurological physical therapist.

Neurological physical therapists specialize in evaluating and treating people who have movement problems related to damage or illness of the nervous system.

According to the Foundation for Peripheral Neuropathy, physical therapy exercises that focus on aerobic capacity, flexibility, strength, and balance may be beneficial to people with neuropathy:

  • Aerobic exercises: These help work muscles and increase breathing and heart rate. Examples of aerobic exercises a physical therapist may recommend include:
    • swimming
    • brisk walking
    • cycling
  • Flexibility training: People also refer to flexibility training as stretching. This helps keep joints flexible, which can reduce a person’s risk of injury.
  • Strengthening exercises: Strength training helps strengthen muscles. Examples include:
    • bodyweight exercises, such as squats and pushups
    • weightlifting
    • resistance band activities
    • stationary weight machines
  • Balance exercises: These can help a person maintain and improve strength and coordination. This can also help decrease fall risk and improve a person’s functional mobility.

A person should check with a physician before starting any exercise program.

Finding the right physical therapist for each individual can involve a variety of factors. These include:

  • what insurance the therapist accepts
  • whether they treat neuropathy or specialize in neurological conditions
  • what geographic location a person is in

Some healthcare professionals may have a list of physical therapists in their area whom they recommend, and insurance companies typically provide a list of physical therapy locations that are part of specific health plans.

If a person requires physical therapy, Medicare Part B can help cover the cost. Medicare does not have a spending limit for physical therapy.

A person will have to pay a 20% deductible of the Medicare-approved amount.

The amount a person will owe can depend on:

  • how much the physical therapist charges
  • the facility where the physical therapy takes place
  • any other insurance a person might have

Physical therapy may help treat neuropathy and could improve some of the symptoms, such as pain and weakness. However, the cause of neuropathy and the specific content of a person’s exercise program may affect the efficacy of physical therapy.

A person may benefit from doing physical therapy in combination with taking medication to treat the underlying causes of the neuropathy and the symptoms, such as pain.

Research on the efficacy of exercise to treat neuropathy is uneven and limited due to the variations in causes of neuropathy and types of exercise.

Certain types of exercise, such as those focused on aerobic capacity, flexibility, strength, and balance, may help improve symptoms, improve overall health and well-being, and reduce injury risk.

Insurance may help cover some of the costs of physical therapy. However, a person would need to confirm with their insurance provider and find a physical therapist covered by their plan.