Foot massage therapy may be beneficial for those experiencing diabetic neuropathy. While more research is necessary, some evidence suggests massage can provide pain relief and improve circulation.
Diabetic neuropathy refers to nerve damage that can occur due to prolonged periods of high blood sugar levels. This damage can cause pain, tingling, and loss of sensation in different nerves in the body, including the feet.
Currently, there is no cure for diabetic neuropathy. However, treatments exist to help manage symptoms. One such treatment is massage therapy, although more research is necessary to understand its benefits.
Read on to learn more about the possible effects of foot massages on symptoms of diabetic neuropathy.
Research exploring the benefits of massage therapy for diabetic neuropathy is scarce.
However, a 2020 systematic literature review found that depending on several factors such as the type, frequency, and duration of massages, a person may gain the following benefits:
Similarly, a 2022 study suggests that foot massage therapy can have a significant effect in reducing discomfort from diabetic peripheral neuropathy.
More research is necessary to confirm these findings.
Read on to learn more about managing diabetic neuropathy.
Diabetic neuropathy describes nerve damage that can occur as a complication of diabetes.
- Peripheral neuropathy: This type usually affects extremities such as feet and hands.
- Autonomic neuropathy: This type occurs in nerves that control the internal organs.
- Focal neuropathy: This affects single nerves, most often in the torso, hand, or head.
- Proximal neuropathy: This is a rare type of nerve damage to the hip, buttock, or thigh. It typically only affects one side of the body.
Symptoms will often depend on the type of nerve damage a person has.
If the therapist does not undertake certain precautions, massages can present some risks to people living with diabetes. These include:
Massages can increase the risk of hypoglycemia in people who take insulin to manage their diabetes. This may be due to massage therapy reducing stress and improving circulation, which can increase how quickly insulin lowers blood sugars.
An aggressive massage technique or too much pressure can cause increased pain to the already sensitive nerves.
In some cases, people with neuropathy experience
Inadequate hygiene practices or the use of unclean equipment during a foot massage can introduce bacteria to the feet, which can lead to infections. This risk can increase when a person has minor open wounds, such as cuts or blisters on their feet, which they may not notice due to neuropathy.
With foot massage for diabetic neuropathy, it is important to use gentle and safe techniques.
For a self-massage, a person may consider:
- filling up a foot tub or bath with marbles and warm water and rolling the bottom of the feet along the marbles
- rolling a tennis ball on the bottom of the feet
- gently rubbing some nongreasy lotion on the feet using light pressure and soft strokes, avoiding putting the lotion in between the toes as this can lead to fungal infections
If a person with diabetes is seeking a foot massage from another person, some techniques to expect could include effleurage or tapotement. Effleurage involves light stroking movement using the fingertips or palms, while tapotement involves gentle tapping of the skin with fingertips or palms.
It is important that the person performing the massage ensures they wash their hands thoroughly to avoid infections. They also should not massage over any open wounds.
Read on to learn more about foot massage techniques.
People who are finding the symptoms of diabetic neuropathy difficult to manage may wish to discuss integrating massages into their treatment plan with their healthcare team.
Trained massage therapists and physical therapists can provide custom treatments that target specific areas of discomfort to try to provide relief from symptoms. A person may wish to look for a massage therapist with experience massaging people with diabetic neuropathy.
It is best for people to consistently monitor and manage their blood sugar levels in line with the targets set by their healthcare team.
The American Diabetes Association also suggests several steps a person can take to prevent or delay neuropathy, including:
- reporting any signs or symptoms of neuropathy as early as possible to their healthcare team, as early treatment can help prevent future problems
- protecting the feet by using lotion on dry skin and wearing shoes and socks that fit well
- maintaining good foot care by checking their feet in the following ways every day:
- using their hands to find any hot or cold spots
- looking for breaks in the skin
- keeping an eye out for corns, blisters, swelling, or toenail infections
Learn more about diabetes and the feet.
Research exploring the benefits of foot massage for diabetic neuropathy is scarce. Nonetheless, some evidence suggests foot massages may offer relief and benefits for individuals with diabetic neuropathy. This may include pain reduction, improved circulation, relaxation, and enhanced muscle flexibility.
However, it is essential to approach massages with caution, using gentle techniques and being aware of potential risks, particularly in cases of advanced neuropathy. A person should prioritize overall foot care and diabetes management to help manage neuropathy.