Alternative Treatments for Diabetes Nerve Pain

Medically Reviewed by Michael Dansinger, MD on September 07, 2023
5 min read

Some people with diabetes and the nerve pain -- or peripheral neuropathy that comes with it -- find relief in surprisingly simple ways. Sometimes a nice, warm (but not hot) bath is enough to relieve stress and nerve pain. If you have neuropathy, by the way, you might want to have someone else test the water to make sure it's not too hot. A massage can also help. Other people turn to biofeedback, meditation, relaxation techniques, or hypnosis -- all of which have been proven to help.

"These methods of alternative medicine have shown tremendous promise," says Tom Elasy, MD, director of the Diabetes Clinic at Vanderbilt University in Nashville. "I have many patients who have pursued alternative approaches, and I get very positive feedback about the results."

It is possible, through biofeedback, to train the body to decrease the severity of diabetes nerve pain. This involves consciously controlling a body function that is normally regulated by the body -- like skin temperature, heart rate, or blood pressure.

It may sound like science fiction, but evidence of the benefits of biofeedback is quite good. It's been used to help control migraine pain, epilepsy seizures, high blood pressure, and other common problems.

How does it work? You wear sensors on your head and elsewhere that let you "hear" or "see" certain bodily functions such as pulse, digestion, body temperature, and muscle tension. The squiggly lines and/or beeps on the attached monitors reflect what's going on inside your body. Then you learn to control those beeps and squiggles. After a few sessions, your mind has trained your biological system to learn the skills. It is not hard to master, say experts.

Meditation is a therapy offered in many pain treatment centers for diabetes and other painful disorders. Research shows that meditation can lower blood pressure and improve heart rate, breathing, and brain waves. Tension and tightness seep from muscles as the body receives a quiet message to relax.

The soothing power of repetition is at the heart of meditation. Focusing on the breath, ignoring thoughts, and repeating a word or phrase -- a mantra -- makes the body relax. People describe feeling warmth, calm, even a sense of heaviness while they meditate.

While you can learn meditation on your own, it helps to take a class. A teacher can guide you -- and help you reach that deeper, more relaxed state.

Stress can make neuropathy pain worse, so it is important to learn to relax. Your breathing pattern is often affected by changes in emotions. That's why managing your breathing is an important tool for relaxation. By becoming familiar with your own breathing patterns, you can learn to control your breathing, stress level, and pain as well.

First, find a quiet location, a comfortable body position, and a good state of mind. Try to block out worries and distracting thoughts.

Relaxation techniques to help with diabetes nerve pain include:

  • Rhythmic breathing: Take long, slow breaths. Inhale slowly, and then exhale slowly. Count slowly to five as you inhale. Then count slowly to five as you exhale. Pay attention to how your body naturally relaxes. This will help you relax even more.
  • Deep breathing: Imagine a spot just below your navel. Breathe into that spot, filling the abdomen with air. Let the air fill you from the abdomen up, then let it out, like deflating a balloon.
  • Visualized breathing: Find a comfortable place where you can close your eyes. Picture relaxation entering your body -- and tension leaving the body. Breathe deeply, but in a natural rhythm. Visualize the breath coming into your nostrils, going into your lungs. Picture it expanding your chest and abdomen. Then, visualize the breath going out the same way. Each time you exhale, imagine you are getting rid of a little more tension.
  • Relax to music: Put on some music that lifts your mood and that you find soothing and calming. There are specially designed relaxation audio tapes or CDs that are perfect for this.
  • Mental imagery relaxation: This is also called guided imagery. It is a form of "mental escape" in which you create calming, peaceful images in your mind. You also identify self-talk -- your thoughts about your illness -- and focus on positive thoughts and emotions instead.


Self-hypnosis is the path to training both mind and body to make a desired change such as controlling diabetes pain. It is a skill that must be learned from a trained therapist and involves focusing attention for a desired purpose. With practice, hypnotizing yourself can be easy. You focus your attention on an image that blocks the perception of pain -- and you feel less pain. Your subconscious has grabbed hold of that message, replaying it time and again. The mind has learned to control the body.

Scientists say hypnosis seems to block nerve pain receptors in the brain. Those receptors control sensations of pain, anxiety, and discomfort. Studies have shown that pain related to cancer, surgery, back injuries, and migraines responds well to hypnosis.

A growing number of people are using acupuncture to treat neuropathy pain linked with diabetes and other health-related problems.

What is acupuncture? It is a practice in which fine needles are inserted into the skin to stimulate specific points in the body. Traditional Chinese medicine is based on the theory that energy flows through the body along certain pathways, called ‘chi’. Illness or pain results when that energy is blocked or out of balance. The Chinese theory holds that acupuncture unblocks or balances that flow of energy.

Many Western researchers say acupuncture may alter brain chemicals that affect the body and mind. Translated into the language of Western medicine, the healing power of acupuncture may come from its effect on the nervous system, on hormones, and on "feel good" brain chemicals called endorphins.

One landmark study found that patients have reduced pain and improved movement with acupuncture. The National Institutes of Health and World Health Organization have both approved certain uses of acupuncture related to pain.

Acupuncture also appears to be very safe. Relatively few complications from the use of acupuncture have been reported to the FDA even though millions of people are treated with acupuncture each year, according to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. Still, poorly sterilized needles or improper treatments have caused some complications. It's important to make sure you go to a well-trained and experienced acupuncturist. Your doctor may be able to help you with a recommendation.