The most common complication in diabetes is peripheral neuropathy. Peripheral neuropathy is damage to nerves outside of your spinal cord or brain. People with diabetes usually notice symptoms such as numbness, pain, or tingling in their feet and lower legs first.
Although more research is needed, some evidence suggests that massage therapy may help people with diabetes manage symptoms of neuropathy. Some studies have also found that massage can help lower blood sugar levels.
In this article, we will break down the potential benefits of massage for people with diabetes and examine the latest scientific evidence.
More research is needed to understand how massage can best be used to treat diabetes symptoms. However, some research has shown promising results. Here is a summary of the latest findings.
Massage can lower blood sugar levels
A 2019 study analyzed studies published between 2000 and 2018 that looked at the potential benefits of massage for treating symptoms of diabetes. The researchers found significant evidence that massage:
Several factors have also been found to influence the effectiveness of a massage, such as:
- Pressure level
- Number of sessions
- Type of massage
- State of mind of the patient
Some types of massage may be more effective than others, but more research is needed.
A small 2018 study found no changes in blood sugar levels after 12 sessions of a massage called a reflexology massage.
Massage can help treat peripheral arterial disease
Peripheral arterial disease occurs when plaque builds up to narrow your blood vessels and reduce blood flow to your limbs. It is common in people with type 2 diabetes and increases the risk of heart attack and stroke.
A 2011 study found evidence that a connective tissue massage can improve blood flow to the lower extremities of people with type 2 diabetes and slow the progression of peripheral arterial disease.
A foot massage can improve symptoms of diabetic neuropathy
Around 50 percent of people with diabetes suffer from peripheral neuropathy.
A 2015 study looked at the benefits of Thai foot massage for a group of 60 people with type 2 diabetes. The researchers found that participants who received a 30-minute foot massage three times a week for 2 weeks showed significant improvements in their range of motion, ability to stand up from a sitting position, and footfeel compared to a control group.
A 2017 study also found foot massage benefits for people with diabetes. In a group of 38 people with type 2 diabetes, the researchers found that foot massage resulted in greater balance and mobility. However, there was no control group in the study. More research is needed to understand the potential benefits of foot massage for people with diabetes.
Traditional Chinese massage can improve symptoms of neuropathy
A 2020 study review found that a traditional Chinese medicine foot bath combined with acupuncture massage improved symptoms of neuropathy compared to control groups.
However, the researchers also concluded that more research is needed due to the poor methodological quality of the studies.
Another review of the studies in 2020 found evidence that Chinese massage, when combined with metformin hydrochloride tablets, has a complementary effect that may help reduce the amount of diabetes medication needed.
Massage generally seems safe for people with diabetes, and most studies do not report any serious side effects.
There is a potential risk of inducing low blood sugar in patients using insulin. A 2011 study found that children with diabetes had significantly lower blood sugar levels when they were massage than a control group.
If you choose to have a massage, it may be a good idea to bring an emergency source of sugar with you in case you develop low blood sugar levels. Glucose tablets, candies and juice are easy to transport.
When reviewing studies in 2019 that found massage could lower blood sugar levels, the researchers concluded that more studies are needed to clarify the effectiveness of different types of massage.
Research is still ongoing into how massage can best be used to treat symptoms of diabetes. Massage is complementary therapy, which means that it can support traditional medical treatment but should not be used as a substitute.
Some of the types of massages that have been linked with benefits include:
- Thai foot massage
- other types of foot massage
- traditional chinese massage
- Swedish massage
- Connective tissue massage
Other types of massage may also have benefits. If you decide to have a massage, you can try different types and compare the change in your symptoms.
A licensed massage therapist can work with you to reduce your neuropathy symptoms. You can benefit from a visit to a massage therapist if you have persistent pain, numbness, or tingling sensations.
You can let your massage therapist know what symptoms are bothering you so they can best treat you. If you experience more discomfort than expected during a massage, let your therapist know so they can adjust their technique.
Your insurance company can cover part of the cost of massage therapy if it is considered medically necessary. However, not all providers offer coverage. Medicare Parts A and B do not cover massages, but some Part C plans may.
Massage can help people with diabetes lower blood sugar levels, improve blood circulation, and manage symptoms of neuropathy. Further research is needed to best understand what type of massage is most effective and how often a massage should be performed.
Studies rarely report serious side effects of massage. However, it is possible that massage will lower blood sugar. Therefore, it is recommended that you bring an emergency source of sugar, such as glucose tablets or juice, with you.