According to statistics from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 20 million people, or 7% of the US population, have diabetes. If left unchecked, diabetes can lead to heart disease, high blood pressure, kidney failure, loss of limbs and blindness. By improving circulation and promoting relaxation, massage therapy can make a positive difference in the lives of those who have this chronic condition.
Poor circulation makes it difficult for wounds to heal. When you have no sensation and can't see your feet, you may not know you have an infection, and in some cases, massage therapists can be the link that alerts diabetics to complications they may not be aware of.
Statistics show that more than half of all non-accident-related amputations of the toes, feet and legs are linked to diabetes complications. It doesn't have to be that way. According to the National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse, experts estimate that approximately 50% of these amputations could be prevented if minor problems are caught and treated in time.
In addition to slow postsurgical healing, diabetics can have problems with dry skin, which can crack and become infected if left untreated. If a severe infection develops, the skin and tissue can die, causing gangrene. Most often, once gangrene has taken hold, the affected area is amputated to keep the infection from spreading.
Diabetic neuropathy, a kind of nerve damage, is another complication associated with this disease. When the condition affects the limbs, it's called peripheral neuropathy. People with diabetes can experience pain, tingling or numbness in their hands, arms, feet and legs. Nerve damage can also cause problems in the digestive tract, circulatory system, heart and sex organs. Approximately 60 to 70 percent of people with diabetes have some form of neuropathy.
Patti Stanley, a massage therapist in Arizona, has been massaging her diabetic father for 22 years. He has had no peripheral neuropathy issues, and Stanley attributes this fact to the weekly massage sessions she provides. "When you get a massage, you get all that freshly oxygenated blood to your extremities," she explains.
Relaxation, another benefit of massage therapy, can also help people better handle the demands and stresses of the disease. Some studies have shown that massage can help normalize blood glucose levels and reduce symptoms of neuropathy. A Touch Research Institute study found that massage therapy reduced stress hormones which in turn reduced blood glucose levels.
Managing diabetes is a full time job, but getting on a regular schedule of massage will contribute to better control of glucose levels, better physical health, and a more relaxed life.