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Massage Therapy Can Help a Growing Number of Those Diagnosed with Diabetes

Learn how & get a special offer in honor of American Diabetes Association Alert Day


Massage and Diabetes

There is good reason why the American Diabetes Association calls diabetes “a growing epidemic with a devastating physical, emotional and financial toll on our country.”

The incidence of Type II diabetes in America has skyrocketed in recent decades: In the late 1950s, only 1 percent of the U.S. population was diagnosed; today, nearly 10 percent of Americans have been diagnosed with Type II diabetes, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and it is suspected that many more people go undiagnosed.

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Massage Treatment Planning

As noted previously, massage therapy has many benefits for a client with Type II diabetes, as it temporarily increases circulation to the extremities, encourages effective peristalsis, relieves pain and encourages the relaxation response.

Cautions and contradictions related to diabetes must be understood and respected by the massage therapist. Certain assessments are necessary, and complications created by diabetes must be addressed in the treatment plan.

Massage therapy has many benefits for a client with Type II diabetes, as it temporarily increases circulation to the extremities, encourages effective peristalsis, relieves pain and encourages the relaxation response.

During intake, establish whether the client has been diagnosed with Type I or Type II diabetes; this will help guide the treatment plan. For a client whose Type II diabetes is well-managed on an ongoing basis, few adjustments may be needed to accommodate the condition.

It is always wise, however, to regularly update health and medication information with any client who has a chronic health condition, to ensure that changes are documented and addressed in the treatment plan.

  • Cautions. Because the effect of massage therapy on blood glucose levels in a client with Type II diabetes is unknown, it is prudent to perform massage only when blood glucose levels are with the normal range, generally accepted to be between 100 and120 mg/dl.Persistent higher-than-normal blood glucose readings should be evaluated by the client’s physician before performing strokes with circulatory intent.
  • Contraindication. Avoid areas of poor sensation or hypersensitivity to touch. Symptoms of significant hypoglycemia are rare in a client with Type II diabetes, but can occur and require immediate medical intervention.Stop the massage, call 911, and follow the instructions of emergency medical personnel. Symptoms of hypoglycemia can progress rapidly, from pallor, sweating, and extreme hunger, to irritability, muscle weakness; from nausea, vomiting, confusion, to seizure, loss of consciousness, and eventually, coma.
  • Assessments. Examine the client’s legs, feet and toes very carefully before direct touch: any cut, ingrown toenail or fungal infection must be avoided. Palpate areas of neuropathy to gauge appropriateness of touch and pressure. When complications have developed, evaluate side effects of additional medical treatments and medications.
  • Complications Guidelines. Certain long-term complications that can arise when Type II diabetes is not well-managed require additional treatment considerations. An in-depth initial health history and interview are recommended, with updates as conditions develop.

For cardiovascular conditions, avoid deep pressure, prolonged duration of massage, and techniques that may produce significant systemic responses.

For a client on renal dialysis, avoid touch near dialysis ports on the arm or the abdomen, depending on the type of dialysis.

Following kidney transplant, take steps to prevent pathogen transmission.

With caring, comprehensive treatment planning, clients with Type II diabetes can fully experience the benefits of massage therapy that contribute to well-being and overall health.

When a client has been approved to receive massage following amputation, ask permission before working on or near the site; protect any prosthesis from lubricant contamination, and handle with care and respect; prevent extremes of touch, temperature if sensory function is not intact, and avoid turning or repositioning that challenges mobility.

Monitor the client’s ability to provide accurate feedback regarding pressure, temperature and pain. If phantom pain occurs, massaging the intact limb may provide relief.

Better Health

With caring, comprehensive treatment planning, clients with Type II diabetes can fully experience the benefits of massage therapy that contribute to well-being and overall health.


This is an excerpt from an article originally from MASSAGE Magazine, June of 2018. Read the full article here



About the Author

Julie Goodwin, LMT, is an author, bodywork educator, National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork-approved provider and creator of TxPlanner.org. Her 32-year massage practice focused on elders and people in treatment for cancer. She has presented at American Massage Therapy National Conventions and the AMTA Schools Summit, and is the 2016 Alliance for Massage Therapy Education Educator of the Year.

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