diabetes and sports medicine

As a diabetic, one of the most stressed aspects of controlling your diabetes is the emphasis on exercise. Yet many diabetics are concerned about how they can exercise safely given the likelihood of injury during any type of sport. If you are diabetic and a sports enthusiast, please don’t despair. There are many ways you can carefully manage your diabetes and include exercise (even team sports) with them; however, there are also considerations you should keep in mind while engaging in activities, that relate to diabetes and sports medicine.

Yet before we get into the heart of the match, let’s learn a bit more about the game.

What is sports medicine?

According to The American Medical Society for Sports Medicine, it is the area of medicine that focuses on sports related injuries and  ¨Sports medicine physicians specialize solely in non-surgical sports medicine.¨  This area of medicine is closely related to what an orthopedic surgeon does, as it deals primarily musculoskeletal injuries, but is a different subset because most sports injuries do not require surgery. They deal primarily with acute injuries and overuse injuries, and when necessary, will refer a patient with advanced issues to an orthopedic surgeon. 

Now that we know more about what sports medicine is, let’s get to our main focus:

As a diabetic, what special concerns should you have when dealing diabetes and sports medicine?  

Before you embark on a new exercise plan, have a check up with your doctor and determine what is safe. They can give you an individualized plan for your specific needs.  Beyond this initial exam, you should also consider an annual examination for retinopathy, nephropathy, and neuropathy along with a sensory function check in the foot and ankle reflexes. Each of these tests will help to prevent a diabetic athlete from unwanted complications. 

After arranging the care and a safe plan with your physician, there are other problems to keep an eye on.  One of the main concerns is how your exercise will change your metabolic rate. During exercise you burn through calories and sugar faster than normal, so it is important for diabetic athletes to check their blood sugar level before and after participation in an activity. If not, you can have an increased risk for hypoglycemia or hyperglycemia . An easy way to help prevent this is to have carbohydrate rich snacks on hand, monitor and regulate your insulin levels, and to prepare for your activity consistently with these methods before you begin every time.  Let your coaches and teammates know what you are doing, and have them help you look out for symptoms of these glycemic issues. The following chart outlines signs that you are having a sugar issue:

Make sure that your team is aware of what  to look for, and to alert you or your coach if they see you exhibiting any symptoms.

Beyond this careful monitoring, you should make sure that you have an emergency diabetic kit on hand for all practices and games. A kit should include: 

• Copy of the diabetes care plan. 

• Blood glucose monitoring equipment and supplies. 

• Supplies to treat hypoglycemia

 • Supplies for urine or blood ketone testing. 

• Sharps disposal container

 • Spare batteries for blood glucose meter and/or insulin pump.

With diligence in these areas, there is no reason a diabetic person cannot be an athlete as well.  Don’t let your disease hold you back from your passions- with a mind to your body’s needs and limitations, you can pursue your exercise goals safely and enjoyably.