How diabetes is connected to your bone and joint health


by John Zavala, MD

Mar 19, 2021

Often, people with diabetes don’t learn about the effects of their condition on bone health until they seek care for an orthopedic issue. Most have heard about caring for their kidneys, eyes or heart. But, when it comes to orthopedic health and diabetes, they’re surprised to find out there’s a connection there, too. 

From an increased risk of certain conditions to changes in treatment options, here’s what you should know about diabetes and your bones — and what you can do to help protect your orthopedic health. 

Orthopedic conditions in people with diabetes

The full extent of how and why diabetes affects the bones and joints is still unknown. However, we do know that it makes several orthopedic conditions more likely. Some of these include:

  • Frozen shoulder – This condition causes stiffness and pain in the shoulder joint and is much more common in people with diabetes than the general population.
  • Osteoporosis – Those with Type 1 diabetes have an increased risk of osteoporosis, a condition that causes weaker bones and can make fractures more likely. 
  • Osteoarthritis – Type 2 diabetes increases the risk of osteoarthritis. Those with diabetes are more likely to develop obesity, which can contribute to their risk for this common joint condition.
  • Trigger finger – In trigger finger, the finger snaps or catches when you try to bend it. It’s more common in those with diabetes, especially those who are older or who have had diabetes for several years.
  • Charcot foot – This foot condition is a common complication of diabetes. It’s often a consequence of diabetic neuropathy — where nerve damage affects the ability to feel pain leading to microtrauma in the foot. 

How diabetes impacts your treatment options

When you have both diabetes and an orthopedic condition, it could affect the treatments available to you. For some bone and joint conditions, those with diabetes don’t respond as well to traditional treatment options. 

For example, people with diabetes are more likely to need surgical intervention for frozen shoulder because other nonsurgical treatments aren’t effective. In those who have trigger finger, a traditional treatment choice — cortisone injections — doesn’t work as well. 

Diabetes can also affect surgical treatment options for a wide range of orthopedic conditions. We have a better understanding than we did 10-15 years ago of what makes people more at risk for surgery. If you have uncontrolled diabetes, you may not do as well after an orthopedic procedure. 

You’re more likely to have wound healing problems, slow bone healing or the inability to heal. Because of these risks, if your blood glucose isn’t well-controlled or your A1C is over 7.5, your surgery could be postponed until your diabetes is better managed.    

Related: Coping with diabetes distress

Managing diabetes to support orthopedic health

When you have diabetes, protecting your bone health starts with keeping your diabetes under control. By staying up to date with your checkups with your primary care doctor and endocrinologist and consistently monitoring your blood sugar, you’ll be able to catch potential issues sooner. 

Focus on a healthy lifestyle and make choices that decrease inflammation in the body, such as:

  • Exercising regularly
  • Working toward or maintaining an ideal body weight
  • Keeping good glycemic control
  • Minimizing alcohol and tobacco use

Most of all, take your diabetes seriously. It can affect your health in numerous ways if it’s uncontrolled, including long-term joint and bone issues. By listening to your doctors and taking steps toward a healthier lifestyle, you can help protect your orthopedic health and keep doing what you enjoy. 

Find orthopedic care or diabetes support today.

About the Author

John Zavala, MD, is an orthopedic surgeon on the medical staff at Baylor Scott & White Medical Center – Lake Pointe. He is fellowship-trained in sports medicine and shoulder reconstruction. Connect with Dr. Zavala today.

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