If you have diabetes (a chronic condition of high blood sugar), you are likely to develop joint pain, especially if your blood sugar isn’t controlled by diet or medication.
This article will explore the connection between joint pain and diabetes, including the causes and treatment, as well as management, of joint pain in diabetes.
What Is Joint Pain?
Joint pain can affect your knees, hips, fingers, or other joints in the body—places where bone meets bone. If you have diabetes, you are predisposed to certain types of joint pain, which can develop over time. Joint pain related to diabetes is called diabetic arthropathy.
Is Joint Pain a Symptom of Diabetes?
Joint pain can be a symptom of either type 1 or type 2 diabetes. Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disorder in which the body doesn’t produce insulin (a hormone that controls blood sugar). In type 2 diabetes, the body is resistant to the action of insulin or doesn’t make enough of it.
Symptoms of diabetic arthropathy in a joint include:
- Aching or dull pain
- Swelling and redness
- Numbness or tingling
- Limited mobility
Here are some common causes of joint pain associated with diabetes.
High blood sugar promotes the production of substances in the body that are linked to joint inflammation and joint damage, which can cause pain. Inflammation is a reaction of the body to fight possible invading microbes or toxins. But it can be triggered mistakenly and result in damage to the body’s own tissues.
Diabetic neuropathy can be the first sign of diabetes. Neuropathy (nerve damage) is a common complication in people with diabetes. Chronic high blood sugar and high blood triglycerides (a form of fat) in diabetes can lead to nerve damage.
Diabetic neuropathy can cause pain, numbness, and a tingling sensation in the joints, often in the lower extremities. Reduced sensation and proprioception (sensing where a limb is) can lead to falls or small injuries. The effects of these traumas can build up to cause changes in joint structure and chronic joint pain.
One form of diabetic neuropathy, called Charcot foot, causes swelling and can damage the bones and joints of the feet.
Limited Joint Mobility
Stiff joints can be painful. Some people with diabetes may develop diabetic hand syndrome, or diabetic cheiroarthropathy, which makes it hard to move the joints in your hands and also makes the skin tighten. These symptoms can be an early sign of diabetes or may develop in people with prediabetes.
Frozen shoulder, in which the collagen that forms a capsule around the joint tightens and makes it hard to move the arm, is not unommon in people with diabetes.
Treatment and Management of Joint Pain
Managing joint pain when it is a symptom of diabetes is usually similar to managing it for other causes of joint pain. Treatment may include:
- Maintaining a healthy weight to relieve stress on the joints
- Monitoring and treating high blood sugar as recommended
- Following an exercise regimen to strengthen joints and retain flexibility
- Physical therapy
- Rest if recommended by your healthcare provider
- Pain medication as recommended by your healthcare provider
If your joint pain is due to an autoimmune disease such as rheumatoid arthritis, your healthcare provider may prescribe a pain medication called Arava (lefluonamide) that may also help lower your blood sugar and risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
When to See a Healthcare Provider
Call a healthcare provider if you’re experiencing swelling, redness, pain, or numbness in your joints. Joint pain connected to diabetes can't be cured, but it can be treated. If left untreated, it may be more likely to lead to permanent joint damage and loss of mobility.
Follow your healthcare provider's recommendations and keep all follow-up appointments to manage your diabetes and keep your blood sugar well-controlled.
Joint pain can be a symptom of diabetes and can affect people with either type 1 or type 2 diabetes. The symptoms include aching, swelling, tingling or numbness, redness, and lack of mobility. High blood sugar in diabetes can lead to increased inflammation and nerve damage, and other effects that can result in joint pain.
Your provider can recommend treatment for joint pain that is a symptom of diabetes, which can include lifestyle changes like losing weight and exercising or medications that can address inflammation. Keeping your blood sugar under control will also help lower the risk of permanent joint damage.
A Word From Verywell
Treatment for diabetes has come a long way, but it's a condition that requires a lot of attention if you have it, whether it's type 1 or type 2. Maintaining your general health can help minimize some of the joint pain that can develop as a symptom. A healthy diet and activities as recommended by your healthcare provider are worth the effort so you can retain your quality of life.
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