There are many benefits of massage therapy for people with diabetes. Most benefits are similar to those seen by the general population; however massage therapy has also been found to help lower blood sugar in diabetics. Massage therapy can provide relaxation for clients living with the stress of diabetes. Unstable blood sugar levels, and stress and worry about the disease, put strain on the body. Massage helps to calm the nervous system, decreasing the production of stress hormones, with beneficial effects to blood sugar levels.
Massage increases circulation of blood and lymph, allowing for more efficient uptake of insulin by the cells. Circulation is hindered in diabetics as elevated blood sugar damages the body’s cells. Massage of the hands and feet can be beneficial; however massage may need to be adapted depending on conditions the client is experiencing such as neuropathy (nerve damage in the hands and/or feet) so as not to cause further discomfort.
Massage brings greater mobility to the body. This is important for diabetics because elevated blood sugars causes thickening of connective tissue, which affects mobility, including causing stiffness in muscles, tendons and ligaments, and decreased range of motion in the joints. Massage therapy can significantly counter this effect.
Massage therapy tends to lower blood sugar. Massage therapists need to be alert to the dramatic changes that can occur in the blood glucose levels of diabetics during massage therapy as it can become a safety issue when the client leaves the appointment.
Emphasize with clients the importance of blood glucose monitoring. Changes in blood glucose levels can occur during massage. Because of the relaxing nature of massage, and the altered state of awareness that can occur, a drop in blood sugar may not be recognized at first. Not all diabetics can tell when sugar levels drop. Hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) is a serious condition and can lead to unconsciousness and, in rare cases, death.
Learn to recognize signs of low blood sugar in clients. These can include excessive sweating, faintness/headache; talking/moving slowly, speaking incoherently, irritability, personality change and rapid heartbeat. If low blood sugar is apparent, ask the client how they feel and if in doubt, be prepared to treat the hypoglycemia with sugar such as fruit juice, a sugary drink, or the client’s own glucose tablets. Make sure the client is feeling better before leaving. They may need additional time to rest, eat or drink more, and retest blood sugar before leaving.
With proper precautions, massage can be safely enjoyed diabetics. It is important for massage therapists to encourage clients to practice good diabetes self-care. Massage can give a wonderful psychological boost to someone who is living with diabetes.