The Importance of Physical Therapy for People with Diabetes

Physical Therapy, Physical Rehabilitation


Medication and diet can manage diabetes, but they aren’t the only things that can help. Enter physical therapy.

The Centers for Disease and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 28.5 million adults in the U.S. have been diagnosed with diabetes and 96 million people 18 or older have prediabetes. A chronic disease, diabetes is a condition in which an individual either doesn't produce enough of the hormone insulin or, if they do produce enough, their body doesn’t use it effectively. Insulin regulates blood sugar or glucose in the body. At healthy levels, glucose fuels the body’s energy. But if there is too much glucose in the blood, severe complications such as kidney failure, heart disease, and foot ulcers can result. Sadly, those aren’t the only risks. Diabetes also impairs your circulation, which may lead to a lack of sensation in the hands and feet known as neuropathy.

Fortunately, patients can usually manage their diabetes through the traditional means of diet and prescription medications. However, those aren’t the only ways to improve your health and well being with diabetes. An often overlooked component of an integrated health plan for people with diabetes is physical therapy. Understanding the importance of physical therapy for people with diabetes can help them be more mobile and live a more active, healthier lifestyle. Let’s take a closer look at the benefits.

Why physical therapy is so important for people with diabetes

There are many ways that physical therapy can help a person with diabetes, and, as with all quality physical therapy, the approach is never one-size-fits-all. A physical therapist can tailor an exercise plan combining aerobic exercise and weight/resistance training to each individual. They will take into account the patient’s activity level, physical capabilities, current medications, weight, and symptoms.The goal is to improve a patient’s overall strength, stamina, and flexibility. Working out offers a number of benefits to patients wishing to manage their diabetes, including:

Lowers blood sugar levels. According to studies reviewed by Harvard Medical School, exercise lowered the HbA1c (the average blood glucose level in diabetes patients for the past two to three months) by 0.7 percent. The decline was seen even when the patients didn’t lose weight. Aerobics, strength training, or a combination of both were all beneficial.

Improves balance. One complication of diabetes is damage to the nerves and blood vessels in the extremities. This can lead to neuropathy or a feeling of numbness in the feet. Because they cannot “feel” their feet, diabetes patients may have diminished balance, which can cause injuries. Physical therapy can restore their sense of balance and prevent falls.

Prevents diabetic wounds. Due to nerve and blood vessel damage, diabetes patients may develop wounds on the leg due to poor circulation. A physical therapy program of electric stimulation, manual therapies, and compression therapy can boost circulation and maintain healthy skin.

Reduces risk of heart disease. Diabetes carries a higher risk for heart disease. But exercise can lower that risk. Harvard Medical points to a study of women with diabetes who did four hours of moderate exercise, such as walking, or vigorous exercise each week. They lowered their risk of heart disease by 40 percent compared to those who didn’t exercise.

When to exercise with diabetes

It’s worth noting that while exercising is always valuable, knowing when to exercise is particularly important for those with diabetes. A physical therapist can work with the patient on determining the best time to exercise.

Harvard Health advises patients to work out one to three hours after eating when blood sugar is higher. Those on insulin should test their blood sugar before exercising. If it’s below 100 mg/dL, they should eat a small snack or piece of fruit to increase the level to prevent hypoglycemia. Thirty minutes after exercise patients should check their glucose to see if it’s stable. Exercising is not recommended if the blood sugar is more than 250 mg/dL because doing so may raise your glucose.

Get started on your physical therapy journey

All Sports Physical Therapy is a full-service physical therapy facility for patients recovering from an injury, seeking preventative care, or dealing with chronic illnesses, such as diabetes. Our expert physical therapists will customize an exercise program for each patient, helping you live a full, active life with no limitations. Contact us today to learn more.

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