The effect of exercise therapy combined with psychological therapy on physical activity and quality of life in patients with painful diabetic neuropathy: a systematic review

Charlotte C. M. van Laake-Geelen*, Rob J. E. M. Smeets, Suzan P. A. B. Quadflieg, Jos Kleijnen, Jeanine A. Verbunt

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journal(Systematic) Review article peer-review

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Background and aims: Approximately 25% of patients with diabetes mellitus type 2 (DMII) develop painful diabetic neuropathy (PDN). PDN is known to affect both mental and physical wellbeing, resulting in anxiety, depression, low quality of life and physical disability. Pharmacological treatment of PDN aims at pain relief and is often ineffective and/or has many side effects. Rehabilitation treatment modalities that are designed to help the patient deal with PDN related complaints, are mostly focussed on either physical (e.g. exercise therapy) or psychological aspects (e.g. cognitive behavioural therapy, CBT). There is emerging evidence that PDN can be approached from a biopsychosocial perspective, in which physical and psychosocial aspects are integrated. From this biopsychosocial approach it is plausible that integrated treatment modalities such as acceptance commitment therapy (ACT) or exposure in vivo (EXP) could be effective in patients with PDN. The objective of this review was to provide an overview of the current evidence on the effects of rehabilitation treatments that combine exercise therapies with psychological therapies in order to improve physical activity (PA) and quality of life (QoL) in patients with PDN.

Methods: Systematic review of the current literature. EMBASE, MEDLINE, Medline In-Process citations and e-Pubs ahead-of-print, Pedro, Web of Science, PsycINFO, CENTRAL, PubMed and Google Scholar were searched. All studies on interventions combining exercise therapy with psychological interventions in patients with PDN, aged >18 years, were included. Outcome measures were PA, QoL.

Results: The search resulted in 1603 records after removing duplicates. After screening on titles and abstracts, 100 records remained. From these, not one study reported on interventions that combined exercise therapy with psychological interventions. Through a secondary hand search, a total of three reviews were identified that described a total of five studies regarding either physical or psychological interventions in patients with PDN. These studies reported moderate effects of (1) mindfulness meditation on QoL, (2) CBT on pain severity, (3) mindfulness-based stress reduction intervention on function, health-related QoL, pain catastrophizing and depression, (4) aerobic exercise on QoL and (5) Tai Chi on glucose control, balance, neuropathic symptoms, and some dimensions of QoL in patients with PDN. All studies were of a moderate quality, and results should be interpreted with caution.

Conclusions: Based on increasing knowledge in the domain of chronic pain, it could be assumed that integrated rehabilitation treatments for patients with PUN are beneficial. There is no literature to support this and more research should be done on integrated biopsychosocial interventions in patients with PDN.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)433-439
Number of pages7
JournalScandinavian Journal of Pain
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2019


  • painful diabetic neuropathy
  • review
  • rehabilitation intervention
  • exercise
  • psychological coping
  • quality of life

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