Do you suffer from tingling, burning, pins and needles, weakness or twitching in your feet? Do you feel like you can’t feel your legs? Or maybe it feels more like a crawling sensation, like your feet fell asleep, or are itchy or prickly. Maybe you feel a different kind of pain you can’t quite describe. It’s quite possible that like many older adults, you suffer from peripheral neuropathy. Peripheral neuropathy can be a risk factor for falls and Tai Chi may help alleviate the symptoms and therefore prevent falls.
Peripheral neuropathy is damage to the nerves due to genetic factors, disease or injury. It is common in older adults because a lot of the diseases that cause peripheral neuropathy are more common in older adults. Peripheral neuropathy is a symptom of diabetes, lumbar back pain, stroke and cancer. In fact, it is often a side effect of chemotherapy. Additionally, peripheral neuropathy is associated with kidney disorders, vascular damage, connective tissue diseases and chronic inflammation.
A person who experiences peripheral neuropathy may feel the myriad of sensations described earlier: numbness, tingling, paresthesia (foot “falling asleep”), and others. A person who has diminished or altered sensation in his or her feet is less likely to be firm on his or her feet. Also, a person who doesn’t feel firm on his or her feet may begin to fear falling. The fear of falling actually increases the likelihood of falling. Furthermore, peripheral neuropathy leads to gait abnormalities, which influence the balance necessary to prevent falls. For these reasons, peripheral neuropathy creates the perfect conditions for a fall. Therefore, it is important to try and treat peripheral neuropathy.
However, treatment may be a bit complicated. Peripheral neuropathy is a symptom, not a disease. Consequently, addressing the underlying cause of the neuropathy is the preferable first course of treatment. Then, therapies such as Tai Chi may help the symptoms. A study examined the effect of 24 weeks of Tai Chi on 25 people with peripheral neuropathy. After just six weeks of Tai Chi, the participants showed improved leg strength, standing balance, functional gait, plantar sensation and were able to get on their feet faster and walk for longer periods.
Therefore, Tai Chi may be a valuable option for those who suffer from peripheral neuropathy. It may restore the balance, strength, sensation and the healthy gait cycles necessary to avoid falls.
National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke