If you have diabetes, you may experience joint pain. It’s important to consult your doctor to find out whether your joint pain is caused by diabetes, a complication of diabetes, or another condition that may co-occur with the disease.

Diabetes occurs when your body does not use the hormone insulin correctly or does not produce enough insulin.

Nerve damage from diabetes can lead to joint damage. In addition, a person living with diabetes may have other conditions that affect their joints. For example, according to the Arthritis Foundation, 47% of people with arthritis also have diabetes.

In this article, you can learn the different ways in which you can develop joint pain while living with diabetes, as well as the available treatments.

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If you have type 1 diabetes, your body does not produce insulin. If you have type 2 diabetes, your body either produces less insulin or does not use insulin properly.

In either case, you can develop high blood glucose levels. This can lead to various complications, especially if you do not have proper diabetes treatment.

This can affect your joints in different ways.

Diabetic arthropathy

High blood glucose levels can cause damage to the blood vessels that nourish your nerves.

In diabetes, changes to your blood vessels can lead to a lack of blood supply and cause degeneration of the small nerves responsible for sensation. This is known as diabetic neuropathy.

Neuropathy can also affect your joints, in which case it is called arthropathy. When there is no nerve stimulation to the joints, they, too, can begin to degenerate.

Charcot’s foot

One example of diabetic arthropathy is Charcot’s joint, which affects the joints of the foot. This condition is also called diabetic foot.

A joint is a place where two bones come together. This condition causes a joint to deteriorate over time, leading to pain.

In addition, the loss of nerve function leads to numbness. When you walk on numb feet, you are more likely to twist and injure ligaments without knowing it. This places pressure on your joints, which can cause them to wear down. Severe damage can lead to deformities in your foot and other affected joints.

You can prevent bone deformities by identifying and treating the condition early. Symptoms of the condition include:

  • joint pain
  • swelling or redness
  • numbness
  • an area that is hot to the touch
  • changes in the appearance of your feet

An estimated 0.1% to 0.9% of people living with diabetes will have Charcot’s joint. Of these, 63% of people will develop a foot ulcer as a result.

If your doctor determines that your joint pain is related to diabetic Charcot’s joint, it’s important to limit your use of the affected areas to prevent bone deformities. If you have numb feet, consider wearing orthotics for additional support.

Diabetic hand

This degenerative process can also affect the joints of your hand. It may lead to:

  • Carpal tunnel syndrome: This condition results from compression of your median nerve.
  • Trigger finger: This is inflammation of your finger tendons that makes it difficult to bend or straighten your finger. The condition can cause pain, numbness, or tingling around your thumb.
  • Dupuytren’s contracture: This condition causes nodules under the skin in your hand, limiting the mobility of the hand.

In addition, you may experience shoulder pain and find it difficult to move your shoulder. This is called frozen shoulder or adhesive capsulitis. It may occur in one or both shoulders.

Osteoarthritis (OA) is the most common form of arthritis.

Excess weight can cause or aggravate OA and is also a risk factor for developing diabetes. Unlike Charcot’s joint, OA is not directly caused by diabetes. Instead, excess weight increases the risk of developing both type 2 diabetes and OA.

OA occurs when cartilage — the cushioning between the joints — wears down. This causes the bones to rub against each other, resulting in joint pain. While joint wear-and-tear is natural to some extent in older adults, excess weight speeds up the process.

Symptoms and treatment

With osteoarthritis, you may notice swelling at your joints and increasing difficulty in moving your limbs. OA most commonly affects the hips and knees.

The best way to treat OA is to reach or maintain a moderate weight. Excess weight puts more pressure on your bones and can make diabetes harder to manage. If your doctor recommends that you lose weight, doing so may help alleviate chronic joint pain and ease other diabetes symptoms.

According to the Arthritis Foundation, losing 10% of your body weight can decrease osteoarthritis pain by half, and losing 20% of your weight can decrease pain by an additional 25% or more.

Regular exercise can do more than just help you manage your weight. Physical movement also helps lubricate your joints. As a result, you may feel less pain.

Your doctor may prescribe pain medications for you to take when joint discomfort from OA becomes difficult to tolerate. Surgery, such as knee replacement, may be necessary in severe cases.

Just as diabetes comes in different forms, so does joint pain from arthritis. Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an inflammatory condition caused by an autoimmune disease.

While RA may cause swelling and redness just as OA does, excess weight does not cause RA. In fact, the exact causes or triggers of RA are unknown.

Type 1 diabetes is also classified as an autoimmune disease. A person living with type 1 diabetes is more at risk for other autoimmune conditions, such as RA.

Both RA and type 1 diabetes cause increased levels of the inflammatory markers interleukin-6 and C-reactive protein. Some arthritis medications can help decrease these levels and improve both conditions.

Symptoms and treatment

Pain and swelling are the primary characteristics of RA. Symptoms can come and go without warning. There is no cure for autoimmune diseases such as RA, so treatment focuses on relieving pain and reducing the inflammation that causes the symptoms.

Your doctor may recommend using any of the following types of medication to manage this condition:

Learn more about the treatments for rheumatoid arthritis.

The key to addressing diabetes-related joint pain is to spot it early. While these conditions have no cure, treatments are available to help minimize pain and discomfort.

Contact your doctor if you’re experiencing swelling, redness, pain, or numbness in your feet and legs. It’s important to treat these symptoms as soon as possible.

If you have diabetes or believe you may be at risk, consider talking with your doctor about your personal risk factors for joint pain.