Physiotherapy for Diabetes
In today’s world, the vast majority of us will have heard of diabetes mellitus (DM). Many of us will have a family member or friend who suffers from this chronic illness. Diabetes and its management is a huge challenge for the Australian health system. An estimated 1.7 million Australians are currently living with diabetes.
While it is important for everyone to exercise regularly and live as healthy a life as possible, it is even more vital for someone with diabetes to keep fit and active. This blog aims to shed some light on why exercise is so important for someone with diabetes. Also, we will explain why your physiotherapist has a key role in helping you manage your condition.
What is Diabetes?
Diabetes is a serious, chronic metabolic condition that results in abnormally high blood sugar. For our bodies to work properly, we need to convert glucose (sugar) from food into energy. Insulin is the essential hormone in our bodies that controls this process. Insulin is produced by the pancreas and allows the glucose we get from food to be absorbed from the bloodstream into the body’s cells. In someone with diabetes, this process can’t occur and instead of being absorbed, the glucose from food stays in the bloodstream, resulting in abnormally high blood glucose levels.
In some cases, the body does not produce enough insulin and glucose is unable to be converted into energy. This is known as Type 1 diabetes and it represents around 10% of all cases of diabetes. People with Type 1 diabetes must make up for the insulin the body cannot produce by injecting themselves with insulin or using an insulin pump. Type 1 diabetes has a strong family connection and cannot be prevented.
In Type 2 diabetes, the body either fails to produce enough insulin or it is unable to use that insulin properly. Type 2 diabetes accounts for between 85-90% of all diabetes cases. It usually develops in adults over the age of 45 but is becoming increasinly common in children, adolescents and young adults. Type 2 diabetes is strongly associated with modifiable lifestlye risk factors such as diet, physical activity, high blood pressure and being overweight.
A third type of diabetes, known as gestational diabetes, can occur during pregnancy and usually goes away after the baby is born. It is becoming increasingly common and the latest data shows that between 12% and 14% of pregnant women will develop gestational diabetes. It usually occurs around the 24th to 28th week of pregnancy.
What are the symptoms of Diabetes?
Diabetes can manifest itself in a wide variety of signs and symptoms. The most common include:
- Increased thirst
- Feeling tired or lethargic
- Increased frequency of urination
- Always feeling hungry
- Having cuts that heal slowly
- Blurred vision
- Unexplained weight loss (Type 1) or weight gain (Type 2)
- Mood swings
- Feeling dizzy
- Leg cramps
This list is simply a general guide and is not exhaustive. If you have any of these symptoms and are worried about diabetes you should always see a qualified health professional and seek appropriate medical advice.
How does exercise affect Diabetes?
Research has clearly shown the benefits of exercise in both preventing and treating diabetes. In fact, large-scale randomised controlled trials have shown type 2 diabetes can be prevented or delayed in up to 58 per cent of cases by maintaining a healthy weight, being physically active and following a healthy eating plan. Exercise can help to regulate diabetes in the following ways:
- helps to control and/or lower blood sugar levels
- encourages insulin to work better by making your cells use more glucose
- lowers body fat
- helps lower blood pressure and cholesterol.
While there is no cure for diabetes, it is clear that exercise has a vital role to play in it’s prevention and management. Exercise should thus be a routine part of everyone with diabetes lives. The Exercise and Sport Science Australia position statement (2012) recommends 210 minutes of exercise per week and no more than two consecutive days without exercise in someone with Type 2 diabetes. This can be moderate to vigorous intensity exercise and can be things such as walking, swimming, cycling or resistance training. The most important thing is that you choose a type of exercise that you enjoy and are able to easily incorporate into your daily routine.
How can physiotherapy help with diabetes?
As experts in all things exercise, your physiotherapist is perfectly placed to help you devise an exercise programme. You will not only benefit physically, but you’ll enjoy too! Whether you already have diabetes or are being proactive about preventing it, your physio will be able to:
- Carry out an assessment of your physical condition. This will include muscle strength, cardiovascular fitness, balance and co-ordination
- Prescribe an individualised exercise programme to suit your needs. The exercise that will help you lose weight or body fat, improve muscle strength, increase stamina and improve balance
- Progress your programme at an appropriate pace. This will ensure you are making gains while limiting the risk of injury.
Physiotherapy also has a key role to play in managing some of the complications of diabetes. For example, diabetes can cause circulation and nerve problems. This can lead to something called peripheral neuropathy, where the nerves in your limbs are damaged causing altered or absent sensation as well as pain. Some people may develop a foot drop and need to be assessed for a splint. Diabetes can also affect your vision (retinopathy) which can lead to increased falls and risk of injury. Your physiotherapist can assist you with falls prevention strategies as well as recommendations for safety around the home.
Diabetes is on the rise both in Australia and worldwide. Its prevention and management is a huge public health challenge. It is clear that leading a healthy lifestyle including participating in regular exercise, having a well-balance diet and maintaining a healthy weight is essential to minimise the risk of developing diabetes. Your physiotherapist is well placed to help you achieve this. At My Mobile Physio we are more than happy to assist you in whatever way we can.
Written by Brian Flanagan – Physiotherapist