Diabetes is a condition that requires constant monitoring. If the condition is managed properly, you can live a happy day-to-day life. But left unchecked, diabetes can lead to a myriad of other health issues including nerve damage and chronic joint pain.
According to the American Arthritis Foundation, people with diabetes are twice as likely to develop arthritis and debilitating joint pain if the condition is unmanaged.
Other factors related to diabetes—such as arterial disease, obesity, and diabetic neuropathy—also heighten your chances of suffering from joint pain.
But how exactly does a blood sugar-related condition affect the health of your joints? Read on to find out!
What is Diabetic Arthropathy?
The reality of living with diabetes is that it takes a toll on the body. Over time, this can develop into a condition known as diabetic arthropathy, i.e. damaged joints. It’s characterized by a thickening of the skin, painful shoulder joints, the onset of carpal tunnel syndrome, and changes in the feet.
The joints of the body help to provide cushioning and protection between the bones. When these areas begin to deteriorate, this much-needed protection is lost leading to painful bone-on-bone friction.
Diabetic arthropathy comes in various forms:
Charcot’s Joint, also known as neuropathic arthropathy or “Charcot Foot”, is a condition involving the degeneration of bones, joints, and soft tissue due to decreased nerve function. Most commonly affecting the foot and ankle, this progressive condition typically follows an untreated injury or infection and is especially common among diabetics due to the loss of sensation associated with diabetic nerve damage (neuropathy).
Common symptoms of Charcot’s Joint include:
- Painful, swollen joints
- Redness and warmth in the affected area
- Numbness or tingling
- Changes in the appearance of the feet
Without treatment, Charcot’s joint can lead to bone and joint deformity, loss of function, and—in extreme cases—amputation. Be sure to talk to your doctor if you experience any of the above symptoms to prevent permanent damage.
This is the most common form of arthritis and a frequent health issue among people with type 2 diabetes. Unlike Charcot’s joint, OA is not traditionally known to be a direct cause of diabetes, but more often caused by shared risk factors—such as age and obesity. However, more recent studies have shown that hyperglycemia may also have an impact on cartilage health and the development and/or progression of OA.
OA is characterized by deteriorated cartilage between the joints which wears down over time. This causes bone-on-bone friction, resulting in chronic joint pain.
Common symptoms of Osteoarthritis include:
- Stiff or sore joints following inactivity or overuse
- Limited range of motion that eases with movement
- Clicking or grating sensation when bending
- Swelling, pain, or tenderness in or around the joint
While natural wear and tear of joints is common as we age, conditions such as diabetes and obesity can only accelerate this process. According to the Arthritis Foundation, “Every pound of excess weight exerts about 4 pounds of extra pressure on the knees. So a person who is 10 pounds overweight has 40 pounds of extra pressure on his knees; if a person is 100 pounds overweight, that is 400 pounds of extra pressure on his knees.” In other words, losing just 10 pounds would relieve 40 pounds of pressure from your knees.
Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA)
Rheumatoid arthritis is most commonly linked with an autoimmune disease, but the exact cause of RA is unknown. Type 1 diabetes is classified as an autoimmune disease, which means that those with type 1 are far more at risk of developing RA over time. RA and type 1 diabetes share inflammatory markers in the body, increasing levels of interleukin-6 and C-reactive protein.
Common symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis include:
- Joint pain, swelling, or tenderness in or around the joints
- Stiffness (especially in the morning, but can last more than an hour)
- Multiple joints affected including small, non-weight bearing joints
- Same joints affected on both sides of the body
Symptoms can come and go without warning and can last for months on end. While there is no cure for RA, there are treatment options available to help manage it. Talk to your doctor to determine a plan that is best for you.