Flexibility: reduce pain, improve mobility and lower blood sugars?

I have always been a pretty flexible person, not just mentally, but physically. I started dance class when I was 6 and have always played a lot of sports that involved flexibility like horseback riding, softball and martial arts. It’s never been a big deal to me to touch my toes, or even put my head to my knee. I’ve also always struggled with shoulder mobility due to injuries, and I’ve never been able to do a full split. So, while flexibility has come naturally in my past, I’ve had barriers too.

However, with the onset of Covid dance classes and shows stopped, and with the added work schedule and moving, martial arts practice also dried up. I spent a more time at my desk, and a lot more time lifting, but a lot less time stretching. When my chiropractor started me on a flexibility and stretching regimen for problems I was having with my hands (numbness and tingling that could have lead to carpal tunnel surgery, a narrow miss) I was astounded at how many of my aches pains and use problems were a direct result of my lost flexibility. This led me to tag in with other parts of my body, from my neck and mid back, through my torso, down my hamstrings and all the way to my toes my flexibility had greatly diminished! So I set out to find a stretching regimen to regain my lost flexibility.

If you’re still reading this you’re probably thinking: ‘what does stretching have to do with diabetes?’


Quite a lot actually. 

A 2015 study on type 2 diabetes found that participants in an 8 week passive/ static stretching program showed a marked reduction in A1C over a control group and these types of results have been seen in multiple studies, though never fully explained. There a are a number of theories including:

– production of and activation of certain protein pathways in muscle fibers that make them more insulin sensitive and increase metabolic activity

-increases in nitric oxide in muscles that increase glucose transport into muscle cells

-application of tension on muscles stimulating glucose uptake. So not just exercise, but stretching can also reduce blood sugars.

(Park S. H. (2015). Effects of passive static stretching on blood glucose levels in patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus. Journal of physical therapy science, 27(5), 1463–1465. https://doi.org/10.1589/jpts.27.1463)

There is also an element of stretching that slows us down. Pausing our busy day for even 10 minutes of stretching makes us focus on our breathing, our heart rate, and some stillness that can be a big improvement in stress management for many of us who barely pause in our day long enough to glance at our CGMs! This mindfulness can then spread to other areas like making healthier food choices, better management practices, and further physical activity endeavors.

Elevated blood sugars can also impact our muscles directly. Elevations can cause us to lose muscle mass earlier than we would otherwise see from aging. We also see muscle atrophy or loss of length and range of motion with elevated blood sugars. So, incorporating flexibility exercises along with resistance exercises and cardio exercise helps us maintain full range of motion over time despite the potential impacts of diabetes.

Routine stretching also increases joint mobility and range of motion. Another potential long-term complication of diabetes can be joint pain. Pain decreases mobility, and increases our risk of injury, which leads to reduced flexibility and it becomes a nasty cycle. So, while stretching may ache a bit at the start, over time it leads to a lot less pain! (we should stretch to the point of tension, not the point of pain!)

So 30 days later, what did I do? Am I gumby now? Can I do splits for the first time in my life?

Sadly no I’m not Gumby, and a full split comes and goes, (on a day I do a good warm up and stretch I can juuuust get there.) But my hands easily touch the floor again and I’ve got my head back to my knees. Butterfly stretches are still tighter than they used to be and inguinal and lateralis flexibility is a constant work in progress. But what has changed radically is the aches and pains in my hips and lower back. I was starting to take time to get up and down off the floor playing with my 4 yr old son. I found myself starting to avoid playing on the floor entirely! But now I can get down and back up with all the grace of.. well honestly probably a camel! But without the noises! Sciatica that was a routine part of my life is all but gone and with continued stretching and work with my chiropractor on occasion the numbness in my hands has not made a return. Stiffness, loss of flexibility and aches are not “just part of getting older” they are signs of dysfunction and can be reduced and avoided!

I am always reminding my clients that we are modern humans in our brains, but that our bodies are still built for hunting and gathering. It is easy to forget that we were not built to be in chairs! We were built to be on the ground, climbing on and over things, expanding and testing the full range of motion of our bodies. Flexibility and range of motion is key to maintaining a healthy body. If you don’t use it, you really do lose it! And with diabetes trying to take the upper hand and rob us of our flexibility and mobility it is well worth a few minutes each day to keep our bodies as healthy and pain free as we can and possibly even lower our A1C in the deal!

For more info on flexibility and exercises check out the American College of Sports Medicine website