Optic Neuritis and Exercise Guidelines

by | Oct 6, 2010 | Optic Neuritis | 16 comments

Optic Neuritis and Exercise.  Sometimes it’s difficult to even think about working out when you’re going blind!  Since I’ve been dealing with a chronic case of optic neuritis for almost eight months…my exercise habits have been quite compromised.  It has been interesting to see the wide variety of opinions I’ve gotten on guidelines for exercising with an inflamed optic nerve.

When I asked my Neuro-Opthamologist what I could and couldn’t do I was told, “No Restrictions.”

Really???  I can do anything I want?  “Yes!” I can do Pilates, run, lift weights, swim, inline skate, indoor skydiving, racquetball…no limitations???  “No Limitations!”

This had me feeling pretty good.  Confident that I might be able to manage my flare, keep my sanity, and perhaps not gain two tons while on steroids.

Then I went to my primary care physician…

who happens to be a D.O. and normally does more manipulations to keep my body tuned-up, rather than dealing with medical care issues.  And we got to chatting about exercise and steroids.  Because prior to this Optic Neuritis issue, my body had been doing pretty well, better than usual in fact, and I commented that I was pretty sure it was the weight lifting program I had been doing that was making the difference.

My D.O’s recommendations:  “You need to be very careful with the amounts of weight you are lifting. Because of the high dosage of Prednisone that you are on, there is an increased risk that you might actually tear your tendons and ligaments away from the bones.  High impact activities like running also need to be modified to avoid injury right now.”

Yikes!!!  There’s something to scare one into a super light-weight program, or avoid exercise altogether.  And this is information that I had never heard before.

Then from my 25+ years of experience as a coach, personal trainer, and Pilates Teacher, the guidelines I have always followed, are to avoid upside down exercises if someone had an eye problem.

With Optic Neuritis, the Exercise Guidelines I received spanned the gamut from:

  • Do anything you want


  • Avoid lifting heavy weights and high impact activities.

My response has been to listen to my body and do what I feel is right at the moment. Some days I seem to be able to push myself a little harder, other days I barely have the energy to go for a 20 minute slow walk.  I’m staying right-side up most of the time, because when I go upside down, I usually notice increased pressure in my head and a decrease in my vision.

I suppose that exercising with Optic Neuritis is like dealing with any other sort of medical issue.  If we can get the right information, make sensible choices, and listen to our bodies, chances are, we’ll be doing the right things and be able to continue doing something that’s good for our body, mind, and spirit while we’re dealing with a hiccup in our health.


I would love to hear from other folks who have had Optic Neuritis and learn what exercise guidelines and recommendations you were given to follow during a flare.

Aliesa George: Over the past three decades, Aliesa George has helped assist people with their personal health journeys by sharing, teaching, and developing Pilates, Foot Fitness, and other Mind-Body programs.


  1. SHeri

    This is a tough situation…I would be annoyed if I was given 2 completely different answers from two different doctors.

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  4. Sang Weon Suh

    Hi! My name is Sang from Victoria, B.C, Canada. I have been dealing with optic neuritis for almost 8months. I was attacked two times within 7 months to the same eye. My specialist diagnosed I got MS. Thank you for your sharing for your valuable experience with optic neuritis. You encourage me. Thanks!

  5. Sunny D

    I am in week 2 of my first optic neuritis attack. I have cut my exercise schedule in hopes that rest would help. I am, however, now in pain from lack of exercise. I am getting ready to try for a run when I found your site. After I finish this post, I’m going to try and run. It’s late morning. I have taken some ibuprofen.

    Towards the end of the day, when my MS symptoms are stronger, I feel that running would be painful to my eye. I practiced a bit of slow yoga (no inversions greater than downward dog) and if I kept my eyes closed, wouldn’t feel big pain. A rapid heart beat does pulse my vision a bit….is that dangerous or just something to be aware of?

    In summary, I am going to listen to my body. I believe it is very important to keep my spirit strong in times of symptom flare ups. Thus, exercise. I am prepared to walk, if I feel bad pain or if my vision changes during a run.

  6. Edna Beltran

    Regards just for this great submit, I am happy I came across that web site.

  7. Jeff B.

    I had optic neuritis a couple years ago. It occurred right around the time I began a running routine. I didn’t ask my neuro about it and ended up having major problems. The Prednisone helped to break down several elements of my left hip (ligaments, joint tissue, etc.). This necrosis caused great pain, and to this day I still cannot run long distances without the pain returning. Just be careful exercising on that stuff.

  8. Ayesha Tahir Masood

    Thanks for sharing your experience.
    I hv had an attack in the same eye after a gap of 22 years!
    I’m now 46.
    Hav been physically fit and working out all my life.
    However, always used to get a bit of temporary blurring in the affected eye, which would disappear as soon as my body would cool down.
    Due to traveling and really laziness….I had been off working out regularly for the last 2 years or so.
    Early this month, I joined a new high tech gym and got a personal trainer too!!!
    Target being sculpting a new 46 year old body!
    I hit the whole cardio / weights action and felt fantastic!
    A week later…The same eye starts to blur…but that eight day….the blurring lingered ….and within next 2 days….I had lost vision completely!
    Of course the intravenous steroids for a week and now Orals for next couple of weeks are showing improvement.
    Due to the long gap in between my episode…thankfully MS is not in the background.
    However, this can happen again.
    My neuro physician has advised walks and jogging should be ok.
    I will start the walks this week….however, I’m noticing blurring even when I’m having my pipping hot morning tea!
    I guess…we all will need to find for our sleeves our own limitations.
    Just sharing….

    • Andrew

      I have optic neuritis, am 49, just got it 2 weeks ago and eventually lost all vision in right eye, then put on steroids drip and oral, vision returned to about 25 per cent, now that I have just finished the steroid course my vision is starting to worsen. Had been going for long hill walks when on the steroids, will keep going on walks, I was quite active before this. Now I just take it a day at a time and try to live with this hoping that things will improve and listen to my body as it is the boss. I don,t want to take any more steroids, will say what the eye doc says later this week though. Good luck to all and thanks for sharing.

  9. Ashley

    I have optic neuritis as well and have found that heavy running, etc, anything that gets my blood pumping will cause blurriness/darkening of my vision. I have never taken steroids. Was this advice soley based on your steroid use?

  10. Jess

    Thanks for your article. I am going on month 3 having Optic Neuritis. I just finished my 5 day IV steroid yesterday. I was always very active before but I found exercising would make my vision much worse since I started losing vision in one eye. I plan to start a low impact.training schedule tomorrow and hopefully these steroids will begin to improve my vision soon.

  11. Gavin

    I’m 42 and have just got my first episode of Retrobulbar Neuritus. I’m two and half weeks in, I’m awaiting an MRI to see if I have MS. I went swimming earlier today and I think the vision in my left eye is a little worse because of it. The worst part about this condition seems to be nobody really seems to know what the triggers are and whether certain activities will make things better or worse. I’m hoping to regain my sight, but it has given me a whole new appreciation for the life I took for granted….

  12. Sally

    Optic neuritis
    I had my first episode on the 29th of last month I thibk. It’s very scary and I have a neurologist appointment a week today. Up until this I was at the gym up to five times a week. Need to do something but not sure what. Might try an exercise bike

    • Aliesa George

      Hi Sally, I continued to exercise thru each of my ON flares. However, I drastically modified what I was doing to keep my body safer, and progress my recovery. With the high dose protocol for steroids, I wasn’t told until my THIRD flare that high impact activities (like running) and heavy weightlifting put me at risk for tendon & ligament injuries. So I switched to walking, swimming, elliptical and low impact cardio, dropped all my weights to the lowest possible option on the stack and just went thru the movements focusing on form. And for my Pilates workouts, didn’t do anything that increased pressure in my head (upside down exercises). Even curling up for a sit-up for a long time bothered my eyes, so I did Incline Board sit-ups to keep my head at the high angle and reduce pressure. Workouts weren’t as vigorous as normal, but they kept me moving, and helped my mental state while working on reducing inflammation and getting healthy! Hope this helps, and you’re back to healthy vision soon. Peace & Blessings, Aliesa

  13. Robin

    I am currently in my 4th day of optic neuritis. I lost vision Sunday. Went to optomoligest Monday morning, was sent straight to neurologist. Started on a 3 day course of IV steroids and had an MRI. My wonderful DR are trying to get quick answers. I am set to fly out and run the NYC full marathon Sunday. I find out my race fate tomorrow. Your blog gave me hope!!! Thank you.

    • Aliesa George

      Hi Robin, I hope your DR tells you what you want to hear and you’re able to run the marathon. However, please remember that your health is way more important than a race. Also, I would encourage you to ask about this… I wasn’t told until my THIRD time going thru the process of IV steroids and an oral taper that there was a risk of me tearing tendons and ligaments away from my bones with high impact activities (like running) and heavy weightlifting. ON is an inflammatory problem, the steroids are an anti-inflammatory – aside from feeling “wired” and not sleeping much, you can’t really feel aches and pains in the same way because of the steroids. So stay safe and get healthy! I’m sending a little prayer your way for a full recovery.


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