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Cathy Skinner Demonstrates Exercises to Help Cancer Patients With Neuropathy

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Published on April 24, 2019

How can I exercise with painful numbness or tingling in my feet? CEO and founder of THRIVORS Cathy Skinner demonstrates exercises and stretches to help cancer patients with neuropathy improve blood flow, flexibility and ankle strength. Cathy also explains what the “ABCs of ankle rolls” are and ways to work through tight muscles at home or in the office. Watch now to learn her expert tips.


Transcript | Cathy Skinner Demonstrates Exercises to Help Cancer Patients With Neuropathy

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.

Cathy Skinner:

Hello.  This is Cathy Skinner.  I'm the CEO and founder of THRIVORS.  I'm live today with you at Patient Power here from the again snowy Minnesota, and so if you are one of our kindred spirits here in the Midwest, good luck.  I hope you're doing better than I've been doing this winter.  It's been a tough one. 

But we're here today.  I'm excited to talk to you about exercise, one of my very favorite things, and what we're going to address today is what if you or someone who through your cancer journey has a side effect called neuropathy, and it's called chemo-induced peripheral neuropathy.  So that can be nerve damage from the drug therapy that manifests itself in tingling, loss of feeling in your fingers or in your toes, even part of your lower leg and extremity. 

And if you are experiencing this side effect from treatment, you're not alone.  Actually 30 to 60 percent of people who have cancer treatment experience this side effect, and you might know first-hand that this side effect can last for months.  It can also last for years. 

So what does that mean if you have neuropathy?  Well, you're at risk for things like reduced proprioception, and in the personal training world that I come from what that means is reduced sense of kind of where you show up in the world.  You might not be able to navigate stairs or a slippery slope.  You might not be able to have great balance, and so you're at risk for falls.  So without that sensation in your lower extremities you have more difficulty navigating it world around you as well as having reduced ankle strength. 

So today what we're going to do is look at what are some of the exercises you can do even if you have neuropathy to mitigate some of those risks.  So we're going to start with one of my favorites called a calf release.  So we're going to focus today on lower extremities and how to improve blood flow and glucose flow to the lower extremities and help navigate some of that neuropathy. 

So it's going to be difficult for me to get on the floor but what I wanted to show you is if you have a tennis ball, and your dog doesn't want to chase it the way mine does, you're going to sit on the floor with your leg extended, and then you're going to take the tennis ball and I'm going to pretend my forearm is my calf, between the floor and your calf you're going to put the weight of your leg into the ball, and you're going to hold it there.  And you might find a tender spot, and depending on how much you can tolerate what you're going to do is hold it for maybe a minute, two minutes, until you feel the muscle release. 

And after you feel the muscle release you're going to add a little bit of movement.  So if my fist is my foot you're going to draw your foot up to the ceiling, rotate it into your mid-line and then release it.  This will cause the muscle to relax again.  So again, if you lift up your toes, rotate to the mid-line, release, what you're doing is working through the tight muscles that are in your calf around your Achilles and thereby increasing your flexibility and increasing your ankle strength.  Great.  So calf releases is first. 

Second, we'll do calf stretches.  So what that would look like, and again I'm going to talk you through it, you're going to press one heel back so your leg is straight, the weight is in that heel, and you step forward with the other foot.  And again for our stretch we're actually looking to hold, so we're not pushing and prodding and straining but rather just stretching through the back of that ankle. 

Now, if you cannot get your heel to the ground, that's fine.  We're going to work in opposition so you're going to push through the ball of your foot and come up, and then you're going to release back down and relax and see if you can open up again.  So you'll try that.  You'll push through the ankle so you're on the ball of your foot and then relax back down.  So that's a calf stretch. 

The next thing we're going to do to get at those calves, and you can do it without holding on or if you need some kind of a balance element or a chair you can just reach your hand out, but you're going to raise to your tippy tippy toes, and then you're going to lower, lower, lower.  And if you can then you're going to raise the toes and go weight into the heels.  So you're going to lift up-up-up, down-down-down, toes come up, and repeat. 

Now, if you feel like this is too easy to you, you're feeling a little stronger, you want a little more challenge, what you can do is the same type of heel raises, calf raises but you can do it on one foot.  So you can go up-up-up on one foot, and I'm going to lose my balance, and down-down-down.  And again we're looking for the toe raises at the bottom to get an additional stretch.  So calf raises either double leg or single leg if you want a little more challenge. 

And each of our exercises, look to do those 10 to 12 repetitions, one or maybe two sets.  And the great thing is you can do this while you're doing some dishes or while you're brushing your teeth.  A lot of people like to stand up and do some exercises in between their TV segments, so during commercials, just to kind of break things up. 

So the other area we want to get to in your lower extremities are your hamstrings, so the back of your legs.  To stretch those you're going to extend one leg and then you're going to push your hips back like you're sitting in a chair and by drinking those toes up you're going to feel a nice long stretch in the hamstrings.  And take a look at your hips.  Are they leaning to one side, leaning to another side?  Really try to have them even as you press back, and you'll get a nice long stretch here. 

Again, if you have neuropathy you might be less active than you wish.  If you're less active, then those muscles can kind of get tight, get locked down, so we have to open them up and then we can get moving.  So then if you were to do the other leg, kick out that heel, evenly press those hips back, toes raise up, and you're going to get a nice stretch in the back of the hamstrings.  Excellent. 

So the last exercise that we're going to talk about are ankle rolls, and you can do this seated, you can do this standing, you can do this when you're on a conference call or you're waiting on hold for your dentist or whoever is keeping you waiting.  And what it looks like is you're going to extend one foot and then roll the ankle one way and roll the other way. 

A fun game I like to play is called the ABCs of ankle rolls, and you literally in the air with your foot draw alphabet.  So you draw A, and you draw B and then C and then D.  And by the time you move through the whole alphabet you're in really great shape.  Make sure you do the ABCs of the ankles at least once a day.  Again, it's a great thing to do first thing in the morning, while you're watching TV, while you're waiting for a bus. 

There's lots of opportunities to get those lower extremities to move, and you're not even really putting a lot of pressure or strain on the feet, which are the sensitive areas, but you're asking all the supporting cast members of your lower extremities to rise up and to support you in your efforts. 

So there's a lot of other really good material on Patient Power specifically about neuropathy, so check out.  There's a doctor interview.  There's a support group interview.  And make sure you take advantage of these particular exercises even if you have neuropathy because you can do so much to impact the quality of your life, your function and your outcomes. 

So thank you again for spending time with me, Cathy Skinner, CEO of THRIVORS.  Thank you to Patient Power, and I hope you have a fabulous day.

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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