Diabetic neuropathy is a complication of diabetes that affects the nerves, specifically the peripheral nerves, which are the nerves that travel outside of the brain and spinal cord. The condition can cause a wide range of symptoms, including pain, numbness, tingling, weakness, and loss of sensation in the hands and feet.
The exact cause of diabetic neuropathy is not fully understood, but it is believed to be related to the high blood sugar levels that occur in diabetes. High blood sugar levels can damage the small blood vessels that supply blood to the nerves, leading to nerve damage. This can result in a loss of sensation, muscle weakness, and other symptoms.
There are several types of diabetic neuropathy, each affecting different nerves and causing different symptoms. The most common types include peripheral neuropathy, which affects the feet and legs; autonomic neuropathy, which affects the nerves that control the internal organs; and focal neuropathy, which affects specific nerves in the body, such as the nerves in the eyes, face, and torso.
Diabetic neuropathy can also increase the risk of complications, such as foot ulcers and amputations. Therefore it’s important for people with diabetes to be aware of the signs and symptoms of diabetic neuropathy and to work closely with their diabetes care team to manage their condition.
How can Physiotherapy help?
One of the main goals of physiotherapy for diabetic neuropathy is to improve circulation and reduce inflammation in the affected areas. This can be achieved through a combination of techniques, such as massage, heat therapy, and exercises to improve range of motion and muscle strength.
Massage can help to increase blood flow to the affected nerves, which can help to reduce pain and numbness. Heat therapy, such as the use of a heating pad or hot water bottle, can also be beneficial in reducing pain and stiffness in the affected areas.
Exercise is an important component of physiotherapy for diabetic neuropathy. It can help to improve circulation, reduce pain, and improve muscle strength and function. However, it’s important to consult with a physiotherapist before starting any exercise program, as the exercises need to be tailored to the individual’s needs and abilities.
These techniques are another way physiotherapy can help. The techniques include gradual exposure to the triggering sensation and involves gradually increasing exposure to the sensation over time to help the patient, vibratory stimulation which involves using a small vibrating device on the affected area to help stimulate nerve fibres and increase sensitivity, mirror therapy which involves using a mirror to create the illusion of movement in the affected limb, which can help reduce pain and increase range of motion and electrical stimulation.
Walking aids can be helpful for individuals with diabetic neuropathy. Some common walking aids used for diabetic neuropathy include:
Canes: Canes can help distribute weight evenly and provide additional stability while walking, reducing the risk of falls.
Walkers: Walkers can provide additional support and stability, especially for individuals with balance problems.
Crutches: Crutches can help individuals with mobility issues to walk more comfortably and safely, as they take weight off the affected feet and legs.
Orthotics: Orthotics, such as shoe inserts, can help redistribute weight and relieve pressure on the affected feet and legs, reducing pain and discomfort.
Ankle-foot orthoses (AFOs): AFOs are braces that wrap around the ankle and foot to provide additional support and stability, especially for individuals with problems with balance or gait.
Additionally, regular foot and leg exams, along with proper foot care, are important for individuals with diabetic neuropathy to reduce the risk of complications and further damage.
Acupuncture is a traditional Chinese medicine technique that involves the insertion of thin needles into specific points on the body to stimulate energy flow and promote healing. In recent years, acupuncture has been studied as a potential treatment for diabetic neuropathy, a condition where nerve damage results in loss of sensation and weakness in the feet and legs.
Studies have suggested that acupuncture can be effective in reducing symptoms of diabetic neuropathy, such as pain, numbness, and tingling. This is believed to be due to the stimulation of certain nerve fibres and the release of endorphins, natural pain-relieving chemicals in the body.
Additionally, acupuncture may also improve circulation, which can be helpful for individuals with diabetic neuropathy as poor circulation can lead to further nerve damage.
In addition to physiotherapy, education is also an important aspect of managing diabetic neuropathy. Physiotherapists can teach patients how to take care of their feet and how to recognise early signs of complications, such as foot ulcers.
Examples of exercises that may be beneficial for people with diabetic neuropathy
- Stretching exercises: Stretching exercises can help to improve range of motion and reduce stiffness in the affected areas. Examples of stretching exercises include ankle pumps, heel raises, and toe stretches.
- Strengthening exercises: Strengthening exercises can help to improve muscle strength and function. Examples of strengthening exercises include calf raises, heel slides, and toe curls.
- Aerobic exercises: Aerobic exercises, such as walking, cycling, or swimming, can help to improve circulation and reduce pain.
- Balance and coordination exercises: Balance and coordination exercises are important for people with diabetic neuropathy, as the condition can affect balance and coordination. Examples of balance and coordination exercises include standing on one leg, walking heel to toe, and standing on a balance board.
All exercises should be prescribed by a physiotherapist to ensure they are suitable for you. It is important to start slowly and gradually increase the intensity and duration of the exercises. It is also important to monitor blood sugar levels before and after exercise.
Physiotherapy plays a crucial role in managing your condition
In conclusion, physiotherapy plays a crucial role in managing diabetic neuropathy. It can help reduce symptoms, improve function, and prevent complications. A physiotherapy program should be tailored to the individual’s needs and should be integrated with the overall diabetes management plan.
At Home Physio Group our physiotherapists are equipped with skills to help those with diabetic neuropathy. Our Physiotherapists can assess your problem, diagnose, and establish its severity. From their assessment, our physiotherapists will be able to determine an appropriate treatment plan with attainable goals.
For more information please contact us on 0330 335 1016 or alternatively please fill out our contact sheet and we will get back to you.