How Diabetes Affects Your Joints

Did you know that having diabetes puts you at an increased risk of developing joint pain? In fact, the Arthritis Foundation notes that people with diabetes are two times as likely to develop arthritis compared to people without diabetes. There are two types of diabetes. Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune condition that occurs when the pancreas does not produce insulin, while type 2 diabetes is an acquired condition that occurs when blood sugar levels are consistently high, which causes the body to produce less insulin. Since neither of these sound like they would affect the joints, what is the connection between diabetes and joint pain?

While the exact connection between diabetes and joint pain is not clear, it is believed that factors associated with diabetes such as obesity, arterial disease, and diabetic neuropathy, can affect the musculoskeletal system by damaging the joints and nerves. When diabetes damages the joints, it is known as diabetic arthropathy and when diabetes damages the nerves it is known as diabetic neuropathy. In most cases, properly managing diabetes can help to minimize the damage done to the joints and nerves. 

Here are some of the joint problems that can accompany diabetes: 

Charcot Joint

Also known as neuropathic arthropathy, this condition occurs when the nerve damage is so severe it causes the joint to deteriorate. This can cause numbness or tingling in the joint, as well as swelling and joint deformity. In some cases it can also increase the risk of injury due to a lack of sensation. The most common location of the charcot joint is in the foot, therefore treatment usually consists of wearing orthotic supports. 

Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis, as well as one of the main reasons for joint replacement surgery. Osteoarthritis is classified by the wearing down of lubricating cartilage within the joint that causes joint pain, swelling, and stiffness. Although the joints wear down over time, excess weight can cause them to wear down faster. While diabetes does not directly cause osteoarthritis, it is often seen in people with type 2 diabetes who are overweight. In these cases, managing diabetes through weight loss can also help alleviate joint pain. Some people may also elect to have joint replacement surgery to manage their joint pain. 

Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis is another form of arthritis that is associated with diabetes. Unlike osteoarthritis, however, rheumatoid arthritis is commonly seen in people with type 1 diabetes and is not caused by being overweight. The exact cause of RA is not known, however people who have a history of autoimmune disease are at an increased risk for developing RA. While there is no cure for RA, treatment generally consists of anti inflammatory drugs to improve joint pain. 

Osteoporosis

Type 1 diabetes can also increase the risk of developing osteoporosis, which is a condition characterized by weak bones prone to fracture. While osteoporosis does not show early symptoms, losing height or frequent fractures are indicative of the disorder. To prevent fractures, it is important to consume plenty of calcium and vitamin D, practice weight bearing exercises, and take medications or supplements to minimize the damage done to the bones. 

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