You've read articles praising the health benefits of weight training. Weights boost muscle tone and help halt the mid-life muscle loss your doctors warn is just around the corner. Gyms have never been your milieu, though. With your doctor's approval -- which you should always get before starting a new routine -- you strap on some ankle weights and hit the road. Before long, your thighs are numb. What went wrong?
Pop in an exercise video from the 1980s and you will likely see teased-haired beauties sporting bulky fluorescent bracelet-type devices around their ankles. These little wonders were ankle weights. Ankle weights -- designed and intended to strengthen the leg muscles during floor exercises -- work in the same way dumbbells and hand weights work. When sticking to a low weight -- 1 to 5 pounds, tops, they still come in handy when floor exercises and yoga poses get easy. Just be careful. Ankle weights -- even 1 to 3 pounds -- can cause injury by changing how the way you walk. Remember, ankle weights are not for walking and jogging.
Walking -- or worse, jogging -- with ankle weights can cause neuropathy and nerve entrapment. You're probably wondering how a little weight strapped around your ankle causes numbness, pain or tingling in the thighs and leg weakness. The femoral nerve runs through your leg, and anything tight at the ankle can compress -- or cut off -- it off. Test your own nerve health. Run your hand across your quads or your calf, and the femoral nerve triggers the sensations you feel. Cut that nerve off with a tight bandage or weight, and before long those areas will feel tingly.
When this happens, it disrupts the channels your nerves use to send messages to the brain. Your thigh then goes numb, hurts, stings or burns, signaling a pinched nerve or something more insidious, like neuropathy. A pinched nerve is nothing more than a kink in the hose; but neuropathy is a troubling, sometimes permanent sign that your nerves are damaged. Seeing a doctor at this point is a wise decision. Often, just resting a pinched nerve, or using heat and ice will help. If it doesn't, you may need surgery.
Choosing ankle weights for floor exercise is one thing, but Mayo Clinic physical and rehabilitation specialist Dr. Edward Laskowski agrees that they don't belong in your walking or jogging routine. Pain or numbness that doesn't ease once you've stopped an exercise warrants a trip to the doctor's office. Your doctor may run tests -- including an MRI and nerve conduction studies -- looking for nerve damage. While uncomfortable, they are necessary. If you're diabetic and already have neuropathy, using ankle weights may cause more discomfort.
- MayoClinic.com: Weight Training: Improve Your Muscular Fitness
- American Council on Exercise: Do The Benefits Outweigh The Risks If Individuals Hold Dumbbells In Their Hands While Doing Step Aerobics or Other Cardio Activities?
- Yoga with Weights For Dummies; Sherri Baptiste
- MedlinePlus: Femoral Nerve Dysfunction
- American Diabetes Association: Neuropathy (Nerve Damage)
- MayoClinic.com: Pinched Nerve
- MayoClinic.com: Could Ankle Weights Help Me Get More Out Of My Usual Walking Routine?
- MayoClinic.com: Diabetic Neuropathy
Having studied at two top Midwestern universities, Catherine Field holds degrees in professional writing and patient safety. Writing since 2000, Field has worked with regional newspapers while publishing fiction online. She conducts medical communication research at a Midwestern medical institution and is slated to write a book based on her research findings.