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How Does Diabetes Affect Your Joints?
How Does Diabetes Affect Your Joints?

Diabetes not only raises your blood sugar levels, but can have a harmful effect on your bones and joints as well. According to research studies conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 47% of arthritic patients also have diabetes, indicating a strong link between these two conditions.

Though the exact mechanism by which diabetes effects your bone health is unclear, it has been suggested that diabetic neuropathy (nerve damage), obesity, and arterial disease may play a significant role in increasing your risk of developing bone and joint problems. The following are some bone and joint problems associated with diabetes:

  • Charcot joint – A degenerative joint condition associated with nerve damage that primarily affects the feet. Symptoms include joint swelling, numbness, tingling, and loss of sensation. Treatment includes limited weightbearing and the use of orthotics to support the joint.
  • Diffuse idiopathic skeletal hyperostosis (DISH) – Hardening of the ligaments and tendons. The condition commonly affects the spine causing neck and back stiffness. Treatment involves symptomatic relief with pain medication and in severe cases surgery may be required to remove bone.
  • Osteoporosis – A condition characterized by weak and brittle bones that can easily fracture. Making healthy lifestyle changes that include getting plenty of exercise and a calcium-rich diet will help to prevent rapid loss of bone mass caused this condition.
  • Diabetic hand syndrome - The skin of the hands become thickened and waxy. This condition is also known as diabetic cheiroarthropathy. In an advanced stage, you will not be able to fully extend your fingers. Physical therapy and optimizing blood sugar control may help slow down the disease process.
  • Dupuytren's contracture – Thickening and scarring of the skin and connective tissue in the palm of the hand causing contracture and inability to straighten the fingers. Treatment involves steroid injections and surgery to break apart the hardened bands of connective tissue.
  • Frozen shoulder – Restricted range of motion and pain in the shoulder. Often only one shoulder is affected. Diabetics are at a high risk for developing this condition. Aggressive physical therapy may help preserve range of motion and strength in the affected shoulder joint.
  • Osteoarthritis - Breakdown of joint cartilage. Obesity, which is a common risk factor for diabetes and osteoarthritis, may be the primary cause for this condition. Management of osteoarthritic symptoms includes physical therapy to reduce joint pain as well as diet and exercise to lose weight.

An important key to managing bone and joint problems associated with diabetes is early diagnosis and prompt treatment. If you experience joint pain, weakness, numbness, or swelling, consult your doctor or an orthopedic physician as soon as possible.


Dr. Domb is a nationally recognized orthopaedic surgeon specializing in sports medicine and arthroscopic surgery of the hip, shoulder and knee. A noted pioneer in advanced new techniques in hip arthroscopy, he delivers innovative treatments for patients with hip injuries such as impingement and labral tears. Dr. Domb is also an expert in arthroscopic surgery of the shoulder and knee, adept in specialized techniques including arthroscopic rotator cuff repair and all-inside ACL reconstruction.

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