Therapeutic Massage and Diabetes

How does massage therapy come into the picture of diabetes treatment? What are its benefits? What does a person with diabetes need to know about massage?

Because of my personal experiences as a person with diabetes and as a massage therapist, I feel I am in a unique position to share my observations.

The Diabetes Clinic

I supervise a clinic where my student interns give massages to people with diabetes. This has given me a tremendous opportunity to observe the benefits of therapeutic massage, and its effects on blood sugar levels.

When people with diabetes receive repeated sessions, they can begin to understand their own patterns of response to massage. They can then plan accordingly. I know I tend to drop around 40 mg/dl during a relaxing session of massage. So, if my BGs are 100 mg/dl or less before the session, I’ll drink a small glass of juice prior to the massage, or maybe have it in the room to drink during the session. If I am at 140 to 160 mg/dl, I will eat nothing, knowing I will drop into a more desirable range during the session. If I am higher than 160 mg/dl, I may take an extra injection of insulin, being careful to account for the likely drop due to massage.

Sometimes the blood-glucose-lowering effect of the massage lasts for several hours. It is wise to continue with regular testing.

Advice For a Person with Diabetes Who Receives a Massage

Tell the therapist what you need, and do not be afraid to give him or her honest feedback about your experience. This is an opportunity for both therapist and client to learn from each other, enjoying the experience of giving and receiving massage. No matter what specific type of therapy is used, it is the communication and rapport between therapist and client that is most important.

If you have particular needs and concerns, share those with the therapist. Let him or her know what is most helpful to you. Know that it is okay to stop and drink some juice during a massage if you need to. Let your therapist know if you have time constraints. For example, an hour massage may be most appropriate. A session that is too long may put you at risk for hypoglycemia, defeating the whole purpose of a relaxing massage.

Mary Kathleen Rose teaches therapeutic massage in a number of massage schools and medical settings. She educates massage therapists and other health professionals about the benefits of massage for people with diabetes, informing them of special concerns when working with this population.

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