CIDP exercise program: Can it help reduce your symptoms?

Exercise won‘t cure chronic inflammatory demyelinating polyradiculoneuropathy (CIDP), but it can help you regain your quality of life.

In CIDP, the immune system attacks the protective tissue, called myelin, that covers the nerves in the arms and legs. Only immunotherapy medication can address this autoimmune reaction. If immunotherapy treatments are successful, the immune system stops attacking your nerves, allowing them to heal.

However, to regain strength and function, you’ll likely need to pair immunotherapy with exercise.

The benefits of exercise for CIDP

Even if you have a form of CIDP that doesn’t fully respond to immunotherapy, exercise is still crucial. When done with a trained rehabilitation specialist, exercise can help you to:

  • Rebuild function (if immunotherapy is successful) or slow the loss of function and protect muscle strength (if immunotherapy doesn’t entirely stop the disease).
  • Maintain your overall health and prevent other diseases, like diabetes, that also can affect the nerves.
  • Improve aerobic conditioning and blood vessel health, both important for the health of nerve tissue.
  • Reduce or slow stiffness in your fingers, toes and ankles.
  • Improve your balance and gait — both important in preventing falls.

“In clinical trials, exercise has helped people get stronger and improve their cardiovascular fitness, often by about 30%,” says Margaret A. Moutvic-Wasz, M.D., a specialist in physical medicine and rehabilitation and neuromuscular disease who has worked extensively with people who have CIDP at Mayo Clinic.

In addition to educating you on safe and effective ways to exercise, a rehabilitation specialist can help you adapt to your changing body, teaching you new ways to perform daily activities.

These professionals also can fit you with gait aids like canes, walkers, and devices that support and stabilize your feet and ankles. These aids can help you walk safely and prevent falls. In addition to being good for your physical health, walking safely can be crucial for quality of life, enabling you to continue to participate in activities that bring you joy.

How to exercise with CIDP

Ideally, you’ll develop your exercise program under the guidance of a rehabilitation professional. Ask your neurologist for recommendations for physical medicine and rehabilitation specialists. Depending on your CIDP symptoms, you may need:

  • Occupational therapy, which focuses on the hands.
  • Physical therapy, which will center on your lower body and gait.

Look for a physiatrist, physical therapist or occupational therapist who specializes in helping people with neurologic diseases.

The DIY exercise program for CIDP

A rehabilitation specialist can show you the best ways to improve strength, flexibility, balance and cardiovascular health. However, if you are unable to access rehabilitation therapy, you still have some options.

Search online. Online, you can find “exercise and peripheral neuropathy” videos created by physiatrists, physical therapists and occupational therapists. These videos and photos often show exercises and stretches you can do at home. A few that Mayo Clinic specialists recommend include:

Adapt cardiovascular exercise to your body. If CIDP has affected your feet, ankles and legs, avoid cardiovascular exercise that requires a lot of balance. Instead of walking, consider stationary cycling, group aqua fitness or swimming

Don’t push yourself too hard. Keep cardiovascular exercise at a nonfatiguing level, says Dr. Moutvic-Wasz. “It should feel strenuous but not exhausting,” she says. After you exercise, you should have the same amount of energy that you started with. If you are overtired after exercising or you need several days to recover, you may have done too much. In addition to preventing injury and soreness, this moderate approach can help you to sustain your exercise program over time.

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