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Physiotherapy and Diabetes

Diabetes is a metabolic disorder that causes your body to produce little or no insulin, resulting in high levels of blood sugar. Diabetes has been on the rise globally for decades, and it is estimated that about 5% of people in Ireland have diabetes.

According to Diabetes Ireland, about 10-15% of the diabetic population in Ireland has Type 1 diabetes, which is believed by many in the scientific community to be caused primarily by genetics. Most cases of type 1 diabetes are diagnosed before puberty. The remaining 85-90% of diabetics in Ireland have been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. Often referred to as adult-onset diabetes, type 2 diabetes has much stronger links to poor diet and exercise regimes, which is why countries like Ireland have seen such a spike in the number of type 2 diabetes diagnoses in recent years.

Although there is no cure to either of the two types, type 2 is brought on largely by a lack of exercise. Therefore, it is no surprise that exercise can help manage the condition and keep people who have it healthier for longer. 


Physiotherapy is a useful tool in the battle against diabetes for a number of reasons. Firstly, it allows the patient to achieve a healthy weight. Being obese or overweight is a major risk factor for diabetes, so many people who suffer from diabetes will also be at risk of other complications associated with being overweight. Exercising with a physiotherapist can help reduce the risk of further complications in other areas, as well as improve the overall quality of life for the patient. Furthermore, a common symptom amongst diabetics is fatigue, so many people may gradually become more sedentary and put themselves at risk of gaining weight. Physiotherapy can help prevent this by getting people into the habit of exercising regularly.

As diabetes is a serious disease and requires a lot of balance in areas such as diet, insulin and exercise, it is important not to try exercising without visiting a physiotherapist first. They can have a look at your case history, as well as give you a physical examination, to make sure that the two of you can work together to build a regimen that is both safe and helpful.

The types of exercises that a patient will be doing are rarely very strenuous. The focus of these exercises is not simply to help you lose or manage your weight. These exercises also aim to improve blood flow. A well-known side effect of diabetes is amputation of the limbs, which is largely due to poor circulation and damaged nerves. Regular exercise to stimulate blood flow can drastically reduce the likelihood of this occurring, and help ensure that the diabetic can live a full, normal life.

Exercises such as walking, yoga, and swimming are all popular among diabetics, although the occasional round of weight-training can also be beneficial. The most important thing is that you discuss everything with your physiotherapist first, as some exercises may be too rigorous to begin with. There is also a good chance that you may need to build your exercise regimen to work around your diet and insulin injections, and it is best to discuss this all with the physiotherapist to best ensure your safety.

Most diabetics will begin with simple, low-pressure indoor exercises and gradually build up to more challenging workouts over time. There is of course always the risk that a patient could faint, or suffer from a number of conditions associated with diabetes, such as hypoglycaemia. This is why it is so important to ensure that you never work out alone or with someone who does not understand your condition. If you are experiencing difficulty when exercising, orange juice and a high-carb snack help many diabetics during their workouts.

There is no cure for diabetes, but many of its symptoms are physical. Physiotherapy can help not only to relieve these symptoms, but also to improve a person’s condition and quality of life overall. 

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