Diabetes and Joint Pain

If too much salt can cause your kidneys to go on strike, how does too much sugar affect your nuts and bolts?

The body’s inability to efficiently convert carbohydrates to glucose in order to fuel basal metabolism can have dire effects on the entire body, including joints; although, at first glance, there may be no obvious relationship.  In fact, experts say there is no direct link between high blood sugar and joint pain; rather, effects are indirect in nature.  If left uncontrolled, diabetes could damage nerve endings, hamper circulation, atrophy muscles and result to obesity.

A condition known as Charcot’s joint happens when the feet’s bone structure collapses due to nerve damage, resulting in painful joints and feet abnormalities.  Telltale signs are tingling and numbness, ulcerated sores, swelling of joints, and misaligned ankles and feet.  Eventually, braces are going to be needed for support, as the joints need to be immobilized to prevent the entire body weight from bearing down on the feet.

One of the complications of diabetes is obesity.  This creates pressure in the lower extremities: knees, ankles and feet. Apart from the fact that nerve damage and lack of blood circulation can aggravate symptoms, the downward pressure that the upper body creates is enough to cause painful joints.  This condition typically culminates in osteoarthritis, where joint cartilage of the feet erodes because of the top weight. Other joints in the body may also be affected:  fingers, hips, and lower back.

Where damage to nerves is not the culprit for joint pain, atrophy is the most likely cause for limited joint mobility.  Diabetic hands thicken, and as it tightens, it limits the normal range of motion because hands can no longer be fully extended nor palms pressed flatly.  Hands may appear waxy and look similar to scleroderma.

Another similar-looking hand disorder is the Dupuytren’s contracture.  This is not exclusively associated with diabetes, but diabetics tend to be more at risk than non-diabetics.  Fascia, the connective tissue of the palm and fingers, thickens.  This results to fingers contracting toward the palm, resembling a claw.  It is rather painless, although a bit unsightly.  Mild conditions normally do not require treatment, but surgery may be opted for severe cases in order to restore normal range of motion.

Forestier disease is another complication.  There is no clear connection established, but doctors suspect that insulin has something to do with triggering bone growth where tendons and ligaments come together. Once the condition spreads to the spine, the person may experience stiffness in the back and neck.  Losing weight and physical therapy to slow down bone diffusion can help alleviate pain.

Another major joint adversely affected by runaway diabetes is the shoulder.  Stiffness and pain are common complaints in what doctors call adhesive capsulitis.  Its relationship to diabetes is not exclusive, but diabetics have shown risk four times more than healthy people.  The condition usually runs its course without intervention, although analgesics can be taken to ease the pain.

Addressing diabetic joint pain for long-term relief means addressing the underlying cause.  Hence, sufferers need not only target these individual symptoms, but work with their healthcare provider for a more integrative medical intervention to put diabetes under control.  Joint disorders are far less serious complications than kidney failure or liver breakdown, so the ultimate goal should be preventing the progress of disease before it can cause irreversible damage.  Almost 27 million Americans are diabetic, and the disease is one of the most fatal in the country.  With these concerning statistics, aggressive research is underway to make existing treatments more effective, so there is really no excuse not to stop diabetes in its tracks before it (literally) cripples your system.