Improving Quality of Life After Polyneuropathy

Polyneuropathy refers to the damage or disease of more than one nerve of the body, including nerves that allow you to experience sensation, to move or both. Often, the first symptom of polyneuropathy will be a loss of sensation at the ends of the toes. Other symptoms include pain; tingling or decreased sensation in any body part; difficulty walking, moving the arms or hands, or swallowing; or facial weakness.

If the nerve signals are slowed down but not stopped, the myelin sheath—the nerve covering—is often damaged. If nerves do not respond at all, the nerve fiber (axon) or nerve cells in their entirety may be damaged.

Polyneuropathy can result from certain chemotherapy cancer treatments, diabetes and alcoholism. Other causes include the autoimmune inflammatory disease Guillain-Barré syndrome, in which the symptoms of polyneuropathy  develop quite quickly, and the slower-progressing chronic inflammatory demyelinating polyneuropathy (CIDP).

Physical therapy goals for patients with polyneuropathy depend on the cause, the specific nerves affected and the type of damage incurred. Begun as soon as the patient is able to tolerate it, a physical therapy program will address balance and mobility, with attention paid to aerobic capacity, flexibility and strength training. The latter can moderately improve muscle strength, may reduce neuropathy pain and can help control blood sugar levels as well. Daily-living strategies to stay safer while coping with polyneuropathy, include

  • making adaptations in your home (such as adding railings and removing obstacles
    like throw rugs)
  • paying close attention to your feet, where neuropathy can cause particular difficulties
    (wearing proper shoes, checking daily for sores and bruises, etc.).

Patients can learn from one another as well. Support group and other coping information is available at, the Web site of the Neuropathy Association, a nonprofit organization.

Peripheral neuropathy’s course is variable; it can come and go, slowly progressing over many years, or it can become severe and debilitating. However, if diagnosed early, peripheral neuropathy can often be controlled. A structured  exercise program that we design especially for you can help you deal with this debilitating condition.