Massage therapy for diabetics has grown in demand in recent years. More and more diabetics are seeking professional massage to prevent and improve the problems associated with this chronic disease. Therapeutic massage is one of the fastest growing complementary medicine practices in the United States. In 1990 7% of the population sought professional massage. Nine years later that number jumped to 11%. Then it increased to 24% in 2007. The word about medical massage is out!
23.6 million people in the U.S., 8% of the population, have diabetes. Many of those are seeking the beneficial results of massage therapy. There has not been a lot of scientific research done on the effects of massage therapy for diabetics, but anecdotal reports are creating quite a demand for diabetic massage and the research is starting to follow that demand.
Stress causes the release of stress hormones and those hormones can affect the diabetic’s blood sugar control negatively. It’s hard to think of stress as being or causing a series of chemical reactions in the body, but it does. Stress is a normal part of life, but how we deal with that stress can keep it from spiraling into a health problem.
Stress and diabetes sometimes results in high blood sugars. The diabetic has stress from simply having and dealing with diabetes and any associated problems. Massage has been shown repeatedly to have a beneficial effect on anxiety. Diabetics experiencing anxiety are at risk for poor blood sugar control. Massage therapy for diabetics helps reduce that stress.
It is well known that therapeutic massage has a beneficial effect on the more tangible parts of the body, like muscles and tendons. Not so well known is that it also has a beneficial effect on the chemicals in the body, particularly stress hormones. Massage calms the nervous system, bringing stress hormones down to normal levels; in turn blood sugars are easier to control.
Diabetes can have a dangerous effect on the circulatory system. Diabetics tend to have problems with circulation because high blood sugars can cause hardening of the arteries. This poor flow of blood tends to occur first in the feet, since they are so far from the heart. Massage improves circulation of blood in general, including to the extremities, decreasing this blocking effect of diabetes.
When poor circulation occurs, poor healing of wounds and infections also occurs. That is why diabetics sometimes develop sores on the foot. Massage therapy for diabetics improves feeling (sensation) and circulation, so it can help prevent this common problem. With improved blood (and lymph) flow from therapeutic massage, the body is more able to fight infections in the body. Circulation is critical for good health. It is impaired in the diabetic. Massage improves circulation dramatically.
Elevated blood sugars, because of stress hormones and poor circulation, cause the tissues around the muscles and tendons to become thicker. Diabetes can cause stiffness and decreased mobility in the diabetic’s muscles and other soft tissues. Massage therapy for diabetics treats this problem directly by manipulating these tissues in a way that causes them to be less “sticky” and stiff. Range of motion improves, so does general mobility of the whole body. Improved bodily movement enables the diabetic to do more exercise.
Exercise and better movement further aid in preventing the complications of diabetes complications and improves blood sugar control. Exercise to the diabetic has the same effect as many medications given to type 2 diabetics (enhanced insulin sensitivity, for instance). Improving the ability to move freely gives the diabetic a better chance of taking advantage of the benefits of exercise. Improved mobility through massage therapy for diabetics also protects from debilitating falls.
The uncomfortable symptoms of diabetic neuropathy that many diabetics experience have been shown to be improved with gentle massage therapy for diabetics.
Be aware of your blood sugar levels before and after massage, since massage can decrease blood sugars significantly. Up to a 100 point decrease has been seen in one research clinic. Massage of an injection site can increase the absorption of insulin, lowering blood glucose unexpectedly. Massage might improve the absorption of other diabetic drugs (like sulfonylureas), as well. A potential drop in blood sugar should be planned for in advance.
A therapist who provides massage therapy for diabetics should be aware of the potential for a drop in blood sugar. A normal glucose reading before a massage in a diabetic who is taking insulin or other medication might end up with hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) after the massage.
A small serving of carbohydrate might be in order even before the massage begins, if a low normal glucose is found prior to starting the massage. It might be wise to test blood sugars after the massage, as well as before. If you are diabetic you should keep records of how massage affects your blood sugars. Testing a couple of hours after each massage is recommended as it can sometimes have a lasting effect.
Studies have repeatedly shown that general mood and mental state improves with massage. It is well established that massage has a significant relaxing effect, greater than that from rest alone. The relaxation effect of massage includes a reduced heart rate and lower blood pressure. Regular medical massage for diabetics should be part of the treatment plan.
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