Yoga therapy to support chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy

Treatments for cancer have advanced rapidly over the past 50 years, and people are surviving many cancers and surviving for longer. However, many of the treatments come with terrible and sometimes lasting side-effects. Yoga therapy is well-positioned to support people coping with these long-term drains on quality of life.

According to Memorial Sloane Kettering Cancer Center, chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy (CIPN) is a common side-effect of chemotherapy—30%–50% of cancer patients experience it. With CIPN the nerves in the hands and feet are damaged, causing painful sensations (burning, pins and needles, numbness, weakness) and loss of coordination and function, making things like buttoning a shirt or walking difficult or impossible. There is no cure for CIPN, and it can last indefinitely. And unfortunately, the drugs that cause CIPN are those used to treat the most common cancers, including breast, prostate, colon, and lung cancers. As you might imagine, CIPN is a major quality-of-life issue for those living with cancer.

Research on yoga and CIPN

Three recent randomized controlled trials1 have researched yoga as a therapy for CIPN. As there is no known cure, researchers look for therapies that might improve symptoms, such as pain, anxiety, depression, and insomnia, as well as quality-of-life measures such as balance and fall risk.

Together, these three trials found that yoga was safe, tolerated, feasible, and had no adverse side-effects for people with CIPN—unlike the current drug therapies for CIPN. The research also showed that yoga is a promising therapy for improving CIPN-related pain and physical functioning outcomes. Yoga was consistently effective in reducing anxiety in CIPN patients as well. All three trials noted that more research is needed to understand the ideal “dosage” of yoga and the mechanisms behind its effects for those with CIPN. 

Because even small improvements in CIPN symptoms can significantly improve the quality of life for those living with cancer, without adverse side-effects, yoga therapy is worth exploring to support these folks! Find a yoga therapist to support you, a patient, or a loved one here.

1Yoga for cancer survivors with chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy: Health-related quality of life outcomes

Yoga for chronic chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy pain: A pilot, randomized controlled trial 

Yoga for chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy and fall risk: A randomized controlled trial