The most common complication of diabetes is peripheral neuropathy. Peripheral neuropathy is damage to nerves outside your spinal cord or brain. People with diabetes typically first notice symptoms such as numbness, pain, or tingling in their feet and lower leg.
Although more research is needed, some evidence suggests that massage therapy may help people with diabetes manage neuropathy symptoms. Some studies have also found that massage may help lower blood glucose levels.
In this article, we’ll break down the potential benefits of massage for people with diabetes and examine the latest scientific findings.
More research is needed to understand how to best use massage to treat symptoms of diabetes. However, some research has found promising results. Here’s a summary of the latest findings.
Massage may lower blood glucose levels
A 2019 review of studies analyzed research published between 2000 to 2018 examining the potential benefits of massage for managing diabetes symptoms. The researchers found significant evidence that massage may:
Various factors were also found to influence the effectiveness of a massage, such as the:
- level of pressure
- number of sessions
- type of massage
- mental state of the patient
Some types of massage may be more effective than others, but more research is needed.
A small 2018 study found no changes in blood glucose levels after 12 sessions of a type of massage called foot reflexology.
Massage may help manage peripheral arterial disease
Peripheral arterial disease is when plaque buildup narrows your blood vessels and decreases circulation to your limbs. It commonly occurs in people with type 2 diabetes and increases risk of heart attack and stroke.
One 2011 study found evidence that connective tissue massage can improve circulation in the lower limbs of people with type 2 diabetes, and may help slow the progression of peripheral arterial disease.
Foot massage may improve symptoms of diabetic neuropathy
Roughly 50 percent of people with diabetes deal with peripheral neuropathy.
A 2015 study examined the benefits of Thai foot massage for a group of 60 people with type 2 diabetes. The researchers found that participants given a 30-minute foot massage, 3 times per week for 2 weeks, had significant improvements in their range of motion, ability to stand up from a seated position, and foot sensation, compared to a control group.
A 2017 study also found benefits of foot massage for people with diabetes. In a group of 38 people with type 2 diabetes, the researchers found that foot massage led to increased balance and mobility. However, there was no control group in the study. More research is needed to understand the potential benefits of foot massage in people with diabetes.
Traditional Chinese massage may improve neuropathy symptoms
A 2020 review of studies found that a traditional Chinese medicine foot bath combined with acupoint massage improved symptoms of neuropathy compared to control groups.
However, the researchers also concluded that more research is needed due to the low methodological quality of studies.
Another 2020 review of studies found evidence that Chinese massage, combined with metformin hydrochloride tablets, has a complementary effect that may help reduce the amount of diabetes medication you need.
Massage seems to generally be safe for people with diabetes and most studies report no serious side effects.
One potential risk is inducing low blood sugar in patients using insulin. One 2011 study found that when children with diabetes were given massage, they had significantly lower blood sugar levels than a control group.
If you decide to go for a massage, it may be a good idea to bring an emergency source of sugar in case you develop low blood sugar. Glucose tablets, hard candy, and juice are easy-to-transport options.
In the 2019 review of studies that found massage may lower blood glucose levels, the researchers concluded that more studies are needed to clarify the effectiveness of different types of massage.
At this time, research is still ongoing looking at how to best use massage to treat diabetes symptoms. Massage is a complementary therapy, meaning that it may support traditional medical treatment but it shouldn’t be relied on as a substitute.
Some of the types of massage that have been linked to benefits include:
- Thai foot massage
- other types of foot massage
- traditional Chinese massage
- Swedish massage
- connective tissue massage
Other types of massage may provide benefits as well. If you choose to get a massage, you can try different types and compare the change in your symptoms.
A licensed massage therapist can work together with you to help you reduce your neuropathy symptoms. You may benefit from a visit to a massage therapist if you have persistent pain, numbness, or tingling.
You can let your massage therapist know what symptoms are bothering you so they can best treat you. If you experience more discomfort than expected during a massage, tell your therapist so they can adjust their technique.
Your insurance may cover some of the cost of massage therapy if it’s deemed medically necessary. However, not all providers provide coverage. Medicare parts A and B don’t cover massage, but some Part C plans may.
Massage may be able to help people with diabetes lower blood sugar levels, improve circulation, and deal with neuropathy symptoms. More research is needed to best understand what type of massage is most effective, and how often massage should be implemented.
Studies rarely report serious side effects from massage. But it’s possible that massage may cause your blood sugar to drop, so it’s a good idea to bring an emergency source of sugar, such as glucose tablets or juice.