If you or a loved one have diabetes, you know that it can be a serious condition that requires constant management on a daily basis. While the condition is based in the pancreas, many of the side effects can take on a physical manifestation, causing problems like weakness and loss of balance. These can make physical activity hard, despite exercise being a way to manage the condition. By proactively managing these problems, physical therapy can be a great way to help diabetes patients improve or avoid physical limitations while maintaining a healthy blood sugar level.
The human body contains an organ called the pancreas, which produces the hormone insulin. When everything is functioning properly, insulin allows sugar to enter the cells and provide the energy our body needs to perform daily activities. Interruptions to the process constitute diabetes, which can present in two forms.
Type 1 develops early in life, when the immune system destroys insulin-producing cells, leading to a shortage. Sugar then builds up in the blood and causes hyperglycemia, which can be toxic to cells throughout the body. Without enough sugar to use for energy, the body uses too much fat as a fuel, causing an imbalance.
Type 2 diabetes can develop at any age as a reaction to environmental or lifestyle factors. In this form of diabetes, the body’s cells develop a resistance to insulin. No matter how much the pancreas produces, it cannot create enough insulin to override this resistance. Factors like poor diet, obesity, and a lack of physical activity can all contribute to Type 2 diabetes.
For both types of diabetes, managing the level of glucose in your blood is a primary form of treatment. Type 1 diabetics may need to take regular injections of insulin, and people with both types may need to carefully manage their diet and exercise routine. Without this care, diabetes can lead to a number of other severe problems, both in the organs as well as physically.
Benefits of Physical Therapy for Diabetics
By encouraging safe and effective exercise, physical therapists help diabetics to lower blood sugars and manage those levels. They may also help identify and correct a range of other problems. Some ways that physical therapy can help include:
- Use of specific activities to restore normal movement where function has been lost, working up from passive movement to active exercises
- Steadily and safely restoring or maintaining strength
- Identify tight muscles and gently stretch them, improving flexibility
- Maintaining or regaining endurance to overcome weakness that has occurred due to a lack of energy and activity
- Ensuring you have a good sense of balance to prevent falls and encourage coordination that contributes to daily activities
- Improving the ability to walk through orthotics and helpful tools like walkers or canes
- Controlling and reducing pain, as well as protecting painful areas to reduce sensitivity and avoid diabetic nerve pain
- Healing any sores that are exposed more quickly and developing methods to prevent future sores
- Lowering of blood glucose levels.
Overall, the goals of physical therapy will be to maintain or restore the ability to perform the activities needed to have a good quality of life and stay in good health.
Prevention Through Physical Therapy
While Type 1 diabetes is not considered preventable because its cause is unknown, Type 2 diabetes can be actively prevented for most people. The main mechanisms to do this include weight management through a healthy diet and regular physical activity. By developing a personalized exercise plan, a physical therapist can help you avoid Type 2 diabetes. These exercises will lay the foundation for a healthier, more active lifestyle both at the clinic and outside of it, creating healthier habits in the long term.
For those with Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes, physical therapy can still be used as a method of preventing certain symptoms from developing. Managing blood sugar prevents some of the very serious and life-threatening issues, like a diabetic coma, but can also stave off other things that impact quality of life. For example, it is very common for people with diabetes to develop peripheral neuropathy (a type of damage to the nervous system that sends information from your brain and spinal cord to the rest of the body which can be treated through neurological rehabilitation) and lose feeling in their feet, which leads to an increased number of amputations. Physical therapy can keep the body moving and healthy to prevent the nerve damage that leads to this.
Physical therapy can allow you to be proactive about managing diabetes and prevent any problems from developing further.