The role of physical therapists in fighting the type 2 diabetes epidemic

Marcie Harris-Hayes, Mario Schootman, Jeffrey C. Schootman, Mary K. Hastings

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations


BACKGROUND: In 2014, the total prevalence of diabetes was estimated to be 422 million people worldwide. Due to the aging population and continued increase in obesity rates, the prevalence is expected to rise to 592 million by 2035. Diabetes can lead to several complications, including cardiovascular disease, stroke, peripheral arterial disease, nephropathy, neuropathy, retinopathy, lower extremity amputation, and musculoskeletal impairments. U CLINICAL QUESTION: Up to 80% of patients referred for outpatient physical therapy have diabetes or are at risk for diabetes, providing an opportunity for physical therapists to intervene. Therefore, we asked, "What is the role of physical therapists in fighting the diabetes epidemic?" U KEY RESULTS: Physical therapists commonly prescribe physical activity for the treatment of diabetes and other chronic diseases, such as cardiovascular disease and osteoarthritis. Physical therapists may also screen for risk factors for diabetes and diabetes-related complications and modify traditional musculoskeletal exercise prescription accordingly. Physical therapists must advocate for regular physical activity as a key component of the treatment of chronic diseases in all patient interactions. U CLINICAL APPLICATION: This commentary (1) describes the diabetes epidemic and the health impact of diabetes and diabetes-related complications, (2) highlights the physical therapist's role as front-line provider, and (3) provides recommendations for physical therapists in screening for diabetes risk factors and diabetes-related complications and considerations for patient management. We focus on type 2 diabetes.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)5-16
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Orthopaedic and Sports Physical Therapy
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2019


  • Complications
  • Diabetes mellitus
  • Disease management
  • Epidemiology
  • Physical therapist


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