Patients with severe traumatic peripheral nerve injury (PNI) always suffer from incomplete recovery and poor functional outcome. Physical exercise-based rehabilitation, as a non-invasive interventional strategy, has been widely acknowledged to improve PNI recovery by promoting nerve regeneration and relieving pain. However, effects of exercise on chronic plastic changes following severe traumatic PNIs have been limitedly discussed. In this study, we created a long-gap sciatic nerve transection followed by autograft bridging in rats and tested the therapeutic functions of treadmill running with low intensity and late initiation. We demonstrated that treadmill running effectively facilitated nerve regeneration and prevented muscle atrophy and thus improved sensorimotor functions and walking performance. Furthermore, exercise could reduce inflammation at the injured nerve as well as prevent the overexpression of TRPV1, a pain sensor, in primary afferent sensory neurons. In the central nervous system, we found that PNI induced transcriptive changes at the ipsilateral lumber spinal dorsal horn, and exercise could reverse the differential expression for genes involved in the Notch signaling pathway. In addition, through neural imaging techniques, we found volumetric, microstructural, metabolite, and neuronal activity changes in supraspinal regions of interest (i.e., somatosensory cortex, motor cortex, hippocampus, etc.) after the PNI, some of which could be reversed through treadmill running. In summary, treadmill running with late initiation could promote recovery from long-gap nerve transection, and while it could reverse maladaptive plasticity after the PNI, exercise may also ameliorate comorbidities, such as chronic pain, mental depression, and anxiety in the long term.