In the U.S., more than 29 million people live with diabetes.

Among U.S. seniors—people aged 65 years and older—11.8 million people, or 25 percent, have diabetes, according to the American Diabetes Association. November is National Diabetes Month, a time to become more knowledgeable about this increasingly common disease and how massage can help people who have diabetes.

What is Diabetes?

Broadly defined, diabetes mellitus features elevated blood sugar levels and a failure to produce or utilize insulin. There are several varieties of this condition:

  • Type 1 features an autoimmune destruction to pancreatic beta cells. Formally called insulin-dependent diabetes and/or juvenile diabetes.
  • Type 2 is a more common type than Type 1, and features a failure of insulin production or inability to utilize what insulin the body does create. Formally called non-insulin-dependent diabetes.
  • Type 1.5 involves signs and symptoms of both Type 1 and 2. Usually affects people later in life; some doctors believe some patients with Type 2 actually have this type.
  • Gestational occurs when the fetus compromises the mother’s ability to utilize sugar properly.
  • Insipidus features kidney failure or pituitary gland dysfunction.

Causes and Signs of Diabetes

The two most common causes of diabetic conditions are obesity and sedentary lifestyle, according to the American Diabetes Association. Other causes include genetics, trauma, or glandular dysfunction throughout the body.

The most common signs and symptoms include polyuria, or excessive urination; polydipsia, or excessive thirst; fatigue, lethargy, neuropathy, or lower-limb nerve affectation; and paresthesia, or a burning or prickling sensation. The most common complications include heart and vascular conditions, dental disease, amputations, kidney disease, vision challenges and immobility.

Standard Diabetes Treatment

Among the most common treatment options for diabetics are the following medications:

  • Metformin: Decreases amount of glucose released from the liver. Common side effects include bloating, gas, diarrhea, nausea, kidney and liver failure.
  • Sulfonylureas: This class of drug is known to stimulate the release of insulin from the pancreas. Common side effects include low blood sugar, skin rash, irritability and nausea.
  • Prandin and Starlix: Both stimulate the release of insulin from the pancreas. Common side effects include low blood sugar.
  • DPP-4 Inhibitors: Lower blood sugar levels. Common side effect: Respiratory infections
  • Alpha-Glucosidase Inhibitors: Slow breakdown and assimilation of carbs during digestion. Common side effects include gastrointestinal pain, nausea, diarrhea and gas
  • Pig pancreatic transplantation: Pig insulin is almost identical to human insulin.

Massage Benefits for Diabetic Patients

There are five key benefits of massage therapy to the diabetic client:

  1. Increased circulation tends to encourage cellular intake of glucose and improve insulin utilization. This benefit is expected; however, a diabetic client should check glucose levels an hour or two after receiving a massage to witness how his glucose levels have been altered.
  1. Relaxation is a great benefit to the diabetic client. The physical and mental stresses of having chronic disease may take a toll upon the entire body, yet calming the nervous system can bring ease to the client, allowing her body to better restore harmonic organ balance.
  1. Positive myofascial effects to the diabetic client will include increased mobility and enhanced tissue elasticity. Both of these effects will allow the client to avoid a sedentary lifestyle that often sets in upon depression associated with his condition.
  1. Friction and scar removal techniques over chronic injection sites can relieve pain and dysfunction associated with these regions. Chronic buildup of scar tissue can thicken tissue to an extent that severely limits mobility. Relieving these regions will restore mobility even further.
  1. Massage and reflexology at the areas featuring neuropathies may help restore nerve functionality and sensation. A lack of nerve functionality brings a host of other concerns for allopathic practitioners; therefore, improving sensation will help a client remain on a proper clinical course of treatment.

Increasing circulation, relaxation, positive myofascial effects, relieving scar tissue at injection sites and diminishing the effects of neuropathy are all positive benefits to the diabetic client that will assist this individual in living a normal, healthy life.


Information presented in this article is not intended to replace advice from a medical professional.


About the Author

Jimmy-Gialelis-author-photo-for-bottom-webJimmy Gialelis, L.M.T., B.C.T.M.B., is owner of Advanced Massage Arts & Education in Tempe, Arizona. He is a National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork-approved provider of continuing education, and teaches “Working with Pathologies—Arthritis” and many other classes. He wrote “Fibromyalgia: Massage Therapy Considerations” for MASSAGE Magazine’s July 2015 print issue and “5 Ways Massage Lessens Osteoarthritis Pain and Stiffness” for