Building Better Balance: Tips for Exercising With Neuropathy

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Topics include: Exercise and Fitness

How can multiple myeloma patients exercise while combating neuropathy? Can patients recover their balance? Physical therapist Melanie House, from the University of Iowa Health Care, shares safe forms of exercise and techniques to improve balance for myeloma patients with neuropathy. Melanie also addresses the importance of balance in relation to bone complications from the disease.

This is a Patient Empowerment Network program produced by Patient Power. We thank AbbVie, Inc., Celgene Corporation, and Takeda Oncology for their support.

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Please remember the opinions expressed on Patient Power are not necessarily the views of our sponsors, contributors, partners or Patient Power. Our discussions are not a substitute for seeking medical advice or care from your own doctor. That’s how you’ll get care that’s most appropriate for you.

Andrew Schorr:

So, some of us know my friend, Jack Aiello, who was treated with a transplant years ago. He’s doing great, also like you, Jim, a long-term survivor of myeloma, but he was left with neuropathy. So, he walks with a cane. Sometimes he uses a scooter. But yet, he’s aging like all of us and he needs exercise for his body. So, what about if you have that complication of neuropathy which some people do with myeloma? 

Melanie House:           

As far as exercise, we can find some form of exercise that’s safe anywhere along that spectrum. That all depends on the person’s balance response, their tolerance for weight-bearing through their legs because some people have not only the sensory changes but they have more painful kinds of sensory changes with weight-bearing. 

So, again, it’s very specific to the patient but the one thing I do want to emphasize about neuropathy is, it is not—I have a lot of patients who say to me, “Well, I know my balance is bad because I have neuropathy, end of story.” 

And I say to them well, actually, we have the potential to improve your balance because fortunately, your brain is still connected to your muscles through your nerves and we can recruit other muscles and help them work more efficiently together to improve your balance response.  

And so, I actually train my patients with neuropathy so that they can improve their balance. I’ve had countless reports back from patients who have discharged from the hospital and gone on to do outpatient therapy and recovered balance that they never thought that they could.

Andrew Schorr:          

Wow. And how do you do that? Is it like practicing standing on one foot? Give us a clue? 

Melanie House:           

Well, actually, I'm a very practical person and I work with people that are laborers, you might work with a truck driver or somebody who is a farmer. These aren't individuals that are typically going to go seek out tai chi or something like that. And it isn’t that simple, but if you can challenge yourself in single-limb balance and do it safely that is really gonna force your nervous system to have to respond more quickly and efficiently.  

That is actually the test that I do and the exercise that I prescribe. But I set them up to do it safely. So, if you can do this test and this exercise standing in a corner in your home, where two pieces of drywall come together with a chair in front of you, then you’ve got the walls that can catch you behind and to the sides, the chair in front of you so that you can catch your balance if you need to and when you need to. 

Single-limb balance is a great way to challenge ourselves. You might get the feedback, “Well, I never stand on one leg.” And to that, I say, actually when we walk we're standing on one leg over and over. So, it does prepare a person to be better on uneven surfaces, slopes, and conditions like that.

Andrew Schorr:          

Okay. And we were talking about bone complications and obviously, if you’re worried about these lesions and you fall, which you might if you don’t have the best balance, then that triggers more bone issues.

Melanie House:           

Correct.

Andrew Schorr:          

So, we don’t want to really understate balance as important and many of us and the people, typically, not always with myeloma are older, where balance isn’t as good anyway. So, balance, we’ve got to think about balance, right? 

Melanie House:           

Very important. Very important.

Please remember the opinions expressed on Patient Power are not necessarily the views of our sponsors, contributors, partners or Patient Power. Our discussions are not a substitute for seeking medical advice or care from your own doctor. That’s how you’ll get care that’s most appropriate for you.

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Page last updated on September 10, 2019