Massage and Diabetes

Massage continues to grow as a complementary therapy for everything from simple aches and pains to more serious illnesses. Despite stereotypical images of people experiencing a relaxing/spa type massage, nearly 75% of those who seek massage do so for a specific health complaint for which they have already consulted a physician. Diabetes is no exception.

Researchers at the CDC estimate that more than 29.1 million Americans (almost 10% of the population) have diabetes. About 27% of these are undiagnosed. While diabetes is more common in seniors (about 1 in 4 seniors are diagnosed with diabetes), the prevalence in youth is growing as well.

The good news is that diagnosis is getting more accurate and prevention and treatment options growing. So what role does massage play in those with diabetes? Turns out, there are several major benefits.

What massage can do for diabetes

Several studies suggest that massage at the injection (insulin) site can help. Massage sped the normalization of bodily insulin levels. In this case, the massage was done by the insulin receiver for 3 minutes at each meal. The result was a significant improvement in absorption of insulin and an increase in the bioavailability of insulin in the body.

Other studies suggest that there are more benefits to massage, including a stabilization of  blood glucose, reduction in persistence of physical symptoms, and perception of well-being. Study participants experienced a reduction in blood glucose, anxiety, headaches, depression, work stress, and anger. Self-reports also indicated the patients were sleeping better and had improved relations with their families.

Still other studies suggest that massage can help with peripheral neuropathy (numbness in lower extremities). Massage appears to improve arterial elasticity in providing increased blood flow so that the swelling and other symptoms abate. Many agree that this may be the best potential benefit of massage. Reduction of swelling and neuropathy in the feet and ankles represents a significant improvement in the quality of life for sufferers.

Additionally, several studies suggest that massage can reduce the depression that sometimes accompanies diabetes. Regular therapeutic sessions help diabetes sufferers feel less anxiety, more in control of their lives, and overall happier.

According to a meta-analysis of research:

Massage at an insulin injection site can significantly increase serum insulin action, thereby decreasing blood glucose levels in people with type 1 diabetes. We do not know whether massage can improve insulin sensitivity and therefore be a useful adjunct to the management of diabetes for those with type 2 diabetes.

Uncontrolled studies suggest that massage may help normalize blood glucose and symptoms of diabetic neuropathy. Randomized, placebo- controlled studies are needed to further clarify what an optimal massage treatment might be and to elucidate any short- and long-term benefits of massage as a complementary treatment for diabetes.  (Enzo, Donner, Nickols, Cox,

In simpler terms, massage may help some of the symptoms related to diabetic neuropathy and blood flow, but more research is needed.

Always let your therapist know if you have been diagnosed with, or suspect you have, diabetes. Professionally trained therapists will tune a session taking care in areas of concern and ensure you feel better after your session.