elderly diabetic patient in physical therapy

Diabetes is a chronic disease that affects how the body produces insulin, a chemical that regulates digestion and energy production. Depending on the type of diabetes, your body may not use insulin efficiently, or may not produce enough insulin to regulate blood sugar (glucose) at healthy levels. Insulin also promotes the storage of excess glucose in the liver so the body will be able to meet energy demands.

When you consume carbohydrates, they break down into glucose, which is a sugar that fuels the body’s energy. If the body is producing insufficient amounts of insulin, a toxic amount of glucose can accumulate in the blood, which can cause serious health problems, including death.

Any type of diabetes can cause serious health complications, including coma, organ damage, heart disease, blindness, foot ulcers, amputation, and kidney failure. Excessive amounts of sugar in the blood impair circulation and can damage nerve endings, which may cause neuropathy, or weakness and lack of sensation, in the hands or feet.

Fortunately, commitment to a healthy lifestyle, including weight control, proper nutrition, regular exercise, and other lifestyle changes can help you manage diabetes.

A physical therapist who understands diabetes can design a safe, effective program to help improve your symptoms and reduce potential risks.

Difference Between Type 1, Type 2, and Gestational Diabetes

Type 1 diabetes

About 5 to 10 percent of people with diabetes have type 1, also called insulin-dependent or juvenile diabetes, which is often diagnosed during childhood or teens. Type 1 means your body cannot produce insulin or produces an insufficient amount, so you must take insulin shots to manage your blood sugar.

Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease, possibly caused by a virus or genetic predisposition. Although a poor diet and lifestyle do not cause type 1 diabetes, a nutritious diet and regular exercise program can help manage the condition.

Type 2 diabetes

Most people diagnosed with diabetes — around 90-95 percent — have the type 2 variety. Type 2 diabetes develops when your body cannot metabolize insulin properly and is most often diagnosed in adults. Without intervention, type 2 diabetes worsens.

You may be able to manage type 2 diabetes without insulin shots by sticking to a healthy lifestyle and taking prescribed medication.

Gestational diabetes

Gestational diabetes may develop during pregnancy, which can endanger both you and your baby. Carefully managing weight before and throughout pregnancy may prevent or lessen the dangers of gestational diabetes. By committing to a physician-approved diet and lifestyle program, you lessen your risk of developing gestational diabetes.

Women who experience gestational diabetes are at a greater risk of developing type 2 diabetes in the future.

What to Expect From a Physical Therapy Program for Diabetes

If your doctor has diagnosed you with diabetes or prediabetes (higher than normal blood sugar), a physical therapy program can help you learn to manage blood sugar levels and improve your overall health.

Exercise is an important factor in the management of diabetes. According to a Harvard Health Publishing article, The importance of exercise when you have diabetes, a carefully designed exercise program helps diabetic patients lower their HbA1c (average blood glucose levels for past 2-3 months) by about 0.7 percent.

Our MOTION physical therapists are health and human movement experts, specially trained to design the safest and most effective exercise programs for our clients. We carefully monitor blood sugar levels in our diabetic clients before, during, and after exercise.

We are committed to helping you manage your diabetes, improve your condition to the highest level possible, and prevent your symptoms from getting worse. You can trust your MOTION physical therapist to design a program that is safe and effective.

According to Harvard Health, benefits of exercise for those with diabetes may include:

  • Improves ability to control weight
  • Lowers blood pressure
  • Lowers harmful cholesterol and raised healthy cholesterol
  • Strengthens muscle and bones
  • Reduces anxiety
  • Lowers blood glucose levels
  • Raises body’s sensitivity to insulin, helping to overcome insulin resistance

A well-designed exercise program may reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke and help speed wound healing.

Your Initial Visit

At MOTION, we understand diabetes is a serious disease. We empathize with the fear and uncertainty you may be experiencing and promise that through education and action, you will feel more in control, less stressed, and enjoy a better quality of life.

To prepare for your visit, jot down detailed notes about your symptoms and the goals you hope to accomplish through your PT program. Bring your notes to the session. During your visit, your therapist will ask you to move around as they assess certain functions, so dress comfortably. Throughout this and every visit, we invite you to ask questions and provide feedback.

During your first visit, our goal is to learn about your condition and its effects on your life, as well as your desired level of function, your blood sugar history, wound or pain issues, and any other concerns.

To accomplish these goals, we will conduct some or all of the following steps:

  • In-depth review of your medical history
  • If you are taking medications, we will confer with your doctor about how medications may impact blood sugar as you become more active
  • Thorough evaluation of your symptoms
  • Assessment of your weight and body mass index to create achievable goals and to track your progress throughout the program
  • Analysis of your functional mobility, including strength, range of motion, endurance, and balance

What Do PT Sessions Include?

A typical physical therapy session varies from client to client, as we design a program to fit your specific needs and goals. Most sessions will include exercises to build strength, flexibility, and endurance and to control weight. Depending on your needs, your program may include some or all of the following components:

Aerobic and resistance training

Your MOTION physical therapist will carefully design a program to help you manage weight, build muscle, improve endurance, coordination and balance, and manage glucose levels.

In some documented cases, the combination of an exercise program that includes resistance training and a nutritious diet has reversed type 2 diabetes.

Diabetic neuropathy

Diabetes can cause deterioration of nerves and blood vessels, which may lead to neuropathy of the peripheral nerves. This may cause numbness or weakness, most often in the feet. Diminished balance may also occur.

Your MOTION physical therapist will work with you to modify daily activities to prevent accidental injury. Your PT will also design a low-impact exercise program to minimize discomfort.

Wound care therapy

Diabetes may slow the healing of wounds. If you have a wound that is not healing properly, your physical therapist will work with you to improve circulation, providing the wound with the blood and oxygen it needs to heal. Treatment may include manual therapies, electric stimulation, compression therapy, and other wound care techniques.

Walking program

Your physical therapist may recommend a walking program. Regular walking lowers the risk of heart disease and provides other health benefits. Harvard Health researchers found that “women with diabetes who spent at least four hours a week doing moderate exercise (including walking) or vigorous exercise had a 40% lower risk of developing heart disease than those who didn’t exercise.”


Since 2015, MOTION has provided transformative physical and occupational therapy services to clients of all ages. We pride ourselves on our personalized attention and commitment to each client, the expertise of our staff, and our state-of-the-art facilities. At MOTION, our mission is “to get you back to what moves you” as quickly as possible.

Our skilled staff is knowledgeable about diabetes and has the expertise to design a safe, effective program to fit your specific needs and goals. Guided by our values of compassion, empowerment, integrity, and teamwork, we will not stop until we get you back to the highest quality of life possible.

Contact us today to schedule an in-clinic or telehealth appointment.