Can Diabetes Cause Joint Pain? If So, What Are the Most Common Conditions?
Yes, diabetes can cause joint pain. While diabetes and joint pain are considered to be two independent conditions, there is a definite link between having diabetes and the risk of damage to the joints. In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 47% of people who suffer from arthritis also have diabetes. This is a telling statistic and one that’s backed up by the American Arthritis Foundation, which states that people with diabetes are twice as likely to develop debilitating joint pain than those without the disease.
There are other factors related to diabetes that are also believed to contribute to the risk of joint damage and pain. These include arterial disease, obesity, and a condition called diabetic neuropathy, in which high blood sugar damages the nerves of the body - most often in the feet and extremities.
While the exact relationship between diabetes and joint problems is not entirely clear, there is little debate among doctors and researchers that a connection between the two disorders exists. In this post, we’ll look into some of the science behind diabetes and joint pain and examine some of the most common joint conditions related to diabetes.
How Is Blood Sugar Related to Joint Health?
High blood glucose levels, if left untreated, are known to cause a number of health concerns, two of the most serious being cardiovascular disease and nerve damage. Over time, elevated blood sugar levels can also lead to a condition called “diabetic arthropathy”.
Basically, diabetic arthropathy is the gradual wearing down of the joints. Along with high blood sugar, diabetes-related conditions such as obesity and neuropathy can also contribute to arthropathy.
Unlike trauma or injury, this isn’t something you suddenly experience. Diabetic arthropathy can take years to develop and the increasing pain experienced is caused by a slow deterioration of the cushioning (cartilage) that exists between the bones that make up a joint. Eventually, this cushion wears down so thoroughly that the result is bone-on-bone friction which tends to be quite painful.
Diabetic arthropathy is the general term for a number of conditions that fall under it. Here are a few of the most common diabetes-related joint problems.
Charcot’s Joint is also known as “neuropathic arthropathy” because it is directly related to diabetic nerve damage (neuropathy), which was previously mentioned in this post.
Neuropathy occurs when elevated blood sugar levels cause damage to the nerves, most often in the feet and extremities. Here’s the connection. When the nerves of the feet are damaged it can cause numbness. People who have diminished sensation in the feet can easily twist ankles, break small bones, and tear ligaments without ever knowing it. Damage to the feet often places undo pressure on the joints, causing them to break down more rapidly than they should. The results can be extremely severe, including long-term deformities in the feet and a great deal of pain. In the most severe cases, amputation may even be required. This is something to take seriously.
Symptoms of Charcot’s Joint
If you have diabetes and begin to show the following symptoms, see your doctor immediately. It is important to catch Charcot’s Joint as soon as possible to avoid the long-term complications. Symptoms include:
- Join pain in feet or ankles
- Swelling in the feet
- Numbness or tingling
- Changes in the appearance of the feet
Treating Charcot’s Joint
Once diagnosed with Charcot’s Joint, a person’s treatment options are limited, however, when detected early the progression can be slowed. Treatment may include simply staying off the foot until the pain subsides. Your doctor might also recommend orthotics to offer added support.
Limited Joint Mobility
Also commonly referred to as “diabetic hand syndrome”, this condition most often impacts the small joints of the hands, but can also develop in the shoulders, feet and ankles. When it occurs in the hands, finger movement becomes limited, with those suffering from the condition unable to fully extend their fingers or press their palms flat together.
Better blood sugar control through regular blood sugar testing, a proper diet, and proper treatment with medications, including insulin injections by syringe or insulin pen, can slow the progress of diabetic hand syndrome. Unfortunately, once the digits have been damaged, the lack of mobility is usually not reversible.
This is the most common form of arthritis in the world, which also happens to be of growing concern to those with Type 2 diabetes.
Unlike conditions such as Charcot’s Joint that are believed to be directly caused by diabetes, Osteoarthritis or OA, is linked to one of the major risk factors for Type 2 diabetes - obesity.
It’s no secret that individuals who carry too much weight are prone to elevated blood sugar levels and the development of Type 2 diabetes. But too much weight also puts added pressure on the joints, which can cause the cartilage separating bones to wear down. While some joint wear-and-tear is expected as we age, when a person suffers from obesity this normal wear-and-tear is accelerated due to the added pressure the joints must endure to support the excess weight.
Over time, this deterioration leads to inflammation, joint pain, and limited mobility, with the hips and knees usually the most impacted by Osteoarthritis.
Many of us already know at least one person who has had a knee replacement, a common treatment for OA. But there are things you can do before that becomes necessary, most specifically losing weight if you’re carrying too much.
According to the Arthritis Foundation, losing as few as 15 pounds may decrease knee pain by up to 50%. Not a bad trade off! Besides, you know what else losing weight does. It makes it easier to control your blood sugar. Losing weight is a win/win! You can lower you pain level and improve your diabetes management program.
Another thing you can do to minimize OA is to add physical activity to your daily routine. Movement helps lubricate the joints, which can lead to less pain. In instances when pain is persistent, your doctor may prescribe medications.
Diabetes Management and Joint Pain
The key to avoiding diabetes-related joint pain is to follow your doctor-prescribed diabetes management plan.
- Test your blood sugar regularly, whether by glucose meter and test strips or a continuous glucose monitoring (CGM) device.
- Adhere to your doctor-prescribed medication schedule, including insulin by injection or insulin pump.
- Lose weight if you’re overweight and try to get in about 150 minutes of moderate physical activity each week.
- Commit to a diabetes-friendly diet that helps keep both weight and blood sugar under control.
Watch for symptoms like swelling, minor joint pain, and numbness in the feet and legs. While diabetes-related joint conditions can’t be cured, when caught early there’s a much greater opportunity to minimize pain and slow the progression of the condition. If you do experience any of the symptoms listed in this post, see your diabetes physician as soon as possible. The faster you act on joint pain, the better the results you’re likely to experience.