• MoveForward PT

Diabetes and Your Physical Therapist


Diabetes is a condition in which the body either does not produce enough of the hormone insulin, or the cells in the body do not react normally to insulin. When either of these conditions occurs, it causes the level of glucose (sugar) in the blood to become too high. High blood glucose can cause many health problems.

In 2012, nearly 30 million Americans, or 9.3% of the population, had diabetes. Only an estimated 21 million Americans currently know they have diabetes; another 8.1 million may be unaware that they have the disease. Diabetes rates are almost double for Native Americans and African Americans. About 86 million Americans have "prediabetes," a condition in which blood glucose levels are abnormal but are not yet considered diabetic. In 2010, diabetes was the seventh leading cause of death in the United States. Worldwide, 382 million people were known to have diabetes in 2013.

Diabetes can affect anyone at any age, and can be related to physical problems such as weakness, loss of endurance, obesity, balance problems, and a sedentary lifestyle. Physical activity and exercise are important and effective ways to lower high blood glucose levels. Physical therapists help people with diabetes improve or avoid related problems, and can teach sedentary people how to add physical activity to their daily lives in safe, effective, and enjoyable ways.

How Is It Diagnosed?

Diabetes is diagnosed by a physician, based on a test of your blood glucose level. This test is often ordered by a physician when a person reports some of the signs and symptoms listed in the previous section, or has risk factors determined by a physician. If you are diagnosed with diabetes, a physical therapist can evaluate your symptoms and problems associated with the condition. A physical therapist will identify physical problems that can be helped with an individualized exercise program, and provide specialized treatments based on your needs and goals.

How Can a Physical Therapist Help?

Physical therapists help people with diabetes participate in safe, effective exercise programs to improve their ability to move, perform daily activities, reduce their pain, and possibly lower their blood glucose levels. Physical therapy treatments also can help people with diabetes heal any associated skin problems faster than they would without treatment.

Your physical therapist will examine your record of blood glucose levels, and will check your skin for wounds. Your physical therapist will conduct a complete assessment of your strength, flexibility, endurance, and balance, and use the results of the testing to design an individualized treatment program that addresses your problems and needs. Your treatment program can help improve your:

Motion. Your physical therapist will choose specific activities and treatments to help restore normal movement. These might begin with “passive” motions that the physical therapist performs for you to gently move your joints, and progress to “active” exercises and stretches that you do yourself.

Strength. Your physical therapist will choose and teach you the correct exercises and equipment to use to steadily and safely restore your strength.

Flexibility. Your physical therapist will determine if any muscles are tight, begin to help you gently stretch them, and teach you stretches that you can do yourself.

Endurance. Regaining your endurance is important. If you are suffering from weakness due to inactivity, your physical therapist will teach you exercises to improve endurance, so you can return to your normal activities.

Balance and coordination. Regaining your sense of balance is important in order to prevent falling. Your physical therapist will teach you exercises to improve your balance ability. Coordination is also essential for daily and work activities. Your physical therapist can teach you exercises and movements that restore your coordination.