Why physiotherapy is important in the treatment of diabetes

Diabetes is a worldwide epidemic. According to the International Diabetes Federation, over 450 million people worldwide are living with diabetes, including 1 in 5 of those aged over 65.[1]  An estimated 1.7 million Australians are currently living with diabetes. The proportion of people living with type 2 diabetes has been steadily increasing in Australia and diabetes related complications (even though many are preventable) are a serious problem.[2]

What is Type 2 diabetes?

People with diabetes have an abnormally high or low blood sugar level.

In Type 2 diabetes, the body either fails to produce enough insulin, or can’t use that insulin properly. Insulin is the hormone in our body that allows the sugars from the food we eat (glucose) in the blood stream to enter our body’s cells, where it is converted into energy.

What are the symptoms of diabetes?

Many people with type 2 diabetes display no symptoms.

Because type 2 diabetes tends to be diagnosed at a later age, some of the warning signs can be dismissed as a part of ‘getting older’. In some cases, by the time type 2 diabetes is diagnosed, the complications of diabetes may already be present.

Common symptoms include:

  • Excessive thirst
  • Passing more urine
  • Feeling tired and lethargic
  • Always feeling hungry
  • Having cuts that heal slowly
  • Itching, skin infections
  • Blurred vision
  • Gradually putting on weight
  • Mood swings
  • Headaches
  • Feeling dizzy
  • Leg cramps

If untreated or not properly controlled, diabetes can damage blood vessels, nerves and organs such as the kidneys, limbs or the eyes, leading to serious problems. However, with a healthy lifestyle and the right treatment people with diabetes can lead full and normal lives.

Who is at risk of developing type 2 diabetes?

People are at a higher risk of getting type 2 diabetes if they:

  • have a family history of diabetes
  • are over 55 years of age – the risk increases as we age
  • are over 45 years of age and are overweight or have high blood-pressure
  • are over 35 years of age and are from an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander background
  • are a woman who has given birth to a child over 4.5 kgs (9 lbs), or had gestational diabetes when pregnant, or had a condition known as Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome.

While there is currently no cure for type 2 diabetes, the condition can be managed through a number of lifestyle modifications. Effectively managing diabetes is the best way to prevent diabetes-related complications.

How can physiotherapists help those with diabetes?

Exercise plays a key role in preventing or delaying the onset of Type 2 diabetes by improving blood sugar metabolism, reducing body fat, increasing muscle mass and improving cardiovascular fitness.

Physiotherapists can do more than assess, diagnose, treat, and manage musculoskeletal manifestations and complications of type 2 diabetes.

Physiotherapists play a key role in the design, delivery and implementation of exercise programs for the management of type 2 diabetes and can also counsel patients in physical conditioning and active, healthy living.

Exercise and a healthy diet are recommended both for prevention and for people already diagnosed. People with diabetes often have other medical problems or risk factors for ill health, such as heart disease, high blood pressure, a history of stroke or obesity. Physiotherapists are able to take into consideration these conditions and tailor a bespoke treatment plan to your needs.

For more information on how physiotherapy can support those with Diabetes, give us a call or send an email.


[1] https://idf.org/aboutdiabetes/what-is-diabetes/facts-figures.html

[2] https://www.diabetesaustralia.com.au/about-diabetes/type-2-diabetes/

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