Return to Index
Coping With Nerve and Muscle Effects Related to Chemotherapy
Sometimes anticancer drugs can cause problems with your body's nerves. One example of a condition affecting the nervous system is peripheral neuropathy, where you feel a tingling, burning, weakness, or numbness or pain in your feet and legs. Some drugs can also affect the muscles, making them weak, tired, or sore.
Sometimes these nerve and muscle side effects, though annoying, are not serious. In other cases, nerve and muscle symptoms may be serious and need medical attention. Be sure to report any nerve or muscle symptoms to your doctor. Most of the time, these symptoms will get better; however, it may take up to a year after your treatment ends.
Some nerve and muscle-related symptoms include:
- Weakness or numbness in the hands and/or feet
- Feeling colder than normal
- Pain when walking
- Weak, sore, tired, or achy muscles
- Loss of balance
- Difficulty picking up objects and buttoning clothing
- Shaking or trembling
- Walking problems
- Hearing loss
- Stomach pain
Tell your doctor as soon as symptoms appear so they can be promptly treated.
What to Do
Here are some tips that may help:
- If your fingers are numb, be very careful when grasping objects that are sharp, hot, or otherwise dangerous.
- If your sense of balance or muscle strength is affected, avoid falls by moving carefully, using handrails when going up or down stairs, and using bath mats in the bathtub or shower. Use a cane or other walking aid if needed.
- If possible, always wear shoes with soft soles, such as sneakers.
- When bathing, check the temperature of your bath water with a thermometer. This will help you avoid getting burned by water that is too hot.
- Be careful when cooking. Take steps to avoid cutting or burning yourself.
- Wear gloves when cooking, washing dishes, or gardening.
- Rest when you feel tired.
- Ask your doctor for pain medication. There are multiple different medications available that can effectively treat the pain related to neuropathy. In certain situations your doctor may refer you to a cancer pain specialist for further treatment.
- Consider acupuncture. Many people with acute neuropathy find acupuncture helpful. It usually takes 2-5 treatments before beneficial effects can be appreciated. Acupuncture treatment is in some cases covered by medical insurance. Check with your doctor to see if you are at risk for infection from accupuncture because of low white blood cell counts.
American Cancer Society
National Cancer Institute
Chemotherapy and you. National Cancer Institute website. Available at: http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/coping/chemotherapy-and-you.pdf. Updated June 2011. Accessed January 21, 2016.
Kaptchuk TJ. Acupuncture: theory, efficacy, and practice. Ann Intern Med. 2002; 136:374.
Peripheral neuropathy. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated November 27, 2015. Accessed January 21, 2016.
Shlay JC, Chaloner K, Max MB, et al. Acupuncture and amitriptyline for pain due to HIV-related peripheral neuropathy: a randomized controlled trial. Terry Beirn Community Programs for Clinical Research on AIDS. JAMA. 1998; 280:1590
A guide to chemotherapy: nerve and muscle problems. American Cancer Society website. Available at: http://www.cancer.org/treatment/treatmentsandsideeffects/treatmenttypes/chemotherapy/understandingchemotherapyaguideforpatientsandfamilies/understanding-chemotherapy-more-side-effects-nerve-and-muscle-problems. Updated June 9, 2015. Accessed January 21, 2016.
Visovsky C, Collins M, Abbott L, Aschenbrenner J, Hart C. Putting evidence into practice: evidence-based interventions for chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy. Clin J Oncol Nurs. 2007 Dec; 11(6):901-13.
- Reviewer: Michael Woods, MD
- Review Date: 01/2016
- Update Date: 02/05/2014