For many of us, driving is an essential part of daily life. However, damage to nerves (neuropathy) from diabetes or other causes can have a direct effect on the ability to drive safely. New research from the University of Bologna in Italy shows how neuropathy can affect driving. Here is what you need to know and strategies to stay safe on the roads.
Neuropathy is damage to the nerves that are responsible for controlling muscles (motor nerves) and relaying sensation information back to the brain (sensory nerves). Damage to motor nerves results in decreased muscle strength and a longer time to produce strength. In the study, the researchers found that drivers with neuropathy had lower ankle strength, which contributed to a higher number of driver errors compared to drivers without neuropathy.
When neuropathy affects sensory nerves, this can result in a delayed application of the brakes or uneven application of force to the accelerator or brake. In the study, the research found that participants with neuropathy were more cautious during simulated driving, as demonstrated by significantly slower lap times and more loss-of-control events compared to drivers without neuropathy. However, drivers with neuropathy significantly improved performance with practice.
3 Strategies to Support Nerve Health and Maintain Save Driving
1. Daily Exercise is essential for keeping your nerves healthy. Walking and lower body exercise such as step-ups and ankle raises help to keep driving muscles strong. Here is a great resource for exercises at home.
2. Physical Therapy provided by a registered physiotherapist can provide more in-depth support for improving lower leg and ankle strength and mobility compared to the exercises above. This is an important option if you have experienced lower leg injuries or have lost feeling or have numbness in your feet or lower leg.
3. Frontline Neuropathy not only helps to keep nerves healthy, but it also accelerates adaptations to exercise. My research before getting involved in diabetic neuropathy focused nutrition for improving nerve-muscle interaction in athletes. The impressive results of this research paved the way for my clinical work in diabetes.