Diabetes and tendons

            Being diagnosed with diabetes can be overwhelming.  It’s frustrating when your body isn’t functioning properly, and you must take extra steps to correct the problem. But what if those “extra steps” are literally causing you pain?  If you have diabetes and are experiencing higher than normal levels of pain when you move, you may have damaged tendons. 

            According to a study recently published in the US National Library of Medicine (USNLM)  it was determined that people suffering from any type of diabetes are “at greater risk to suffer many musculoskeletal disorders, such as tendinopathy, limited joint mobility, tendon ruptures, adhesive capsulitis and impaired tendon healing ability than non-diabetic patients.”  

In order to better understand these higher risks, let’s first explore what tendons are and what they do.

A tendon is similar to a cord or band that connects your muscles to your bones. They are made up of the protein collagen and are present all over your body.  Your tendons act as a transfer system. They allow the force your muscles create to get to your bones so you can move. Yet tendons can be fragile due to the constant strain of use in the body.

When you have diabetes, the higher levels of blood sugar can cause your tendons to thicken, and in turn, result in difficulty bearing more weight. This leads patients with diabetes to have higher rates of tendon related issues including:

  • achilles tendon tears
  • rotator cuff tears
  • carpal tunnel syndrome
  • frozen shoulder
  • Dupuytren’s contracture (tissue thickens and causes the fingers to bend into the palm) 

These increased levels of strain can make it difficult for diabetic patients to engage in normal activities but highlight the importance of routine exercise and a well-balanced diet.  Keeping extra weight off your body reduces the work your tendons have to do, thus decreasing your likelihood of unfortunate tendon tears.

Also, a huge component of avoiding these problems is regulating your blood sugar- using your insulin medications properly and engaging in a healthy diet is essential to maintaining tendon care. If you don’t feel this is important, remember this: USNLM reported that once a tendon or ligament has been damaged initially “more than a third of people with diabetes who have surgery to fix a torn rotator cuff will get the problem again.” Are those odds you really want to take?

If you are experiencing pain in these areas but are not ready for surgery, there are options to consider, like an aspirin regimen to reduce pain while exercising, or a steroid shot for more severe cases. Make sure to discuss this with your physician before you start, as these treatments can interact with your insulin levels. 

If you have already injured a tendon or have undergone a tendon repair surgery, take the time to talk to your doctor about how to manage your blood sugar levels and keep them down while recovering – it will help to decrease your overall recovery time. 

Remember that while handling the different health impacts of diabetes can be overwhelming- it is manageable when you are armed with knowledge and  some effort. You are worth that effort, so start asking questions! Talk to your doctor about your diabetes care concerns. 

If you or a loved one found this article helpful, please watch out for the next installment of this series: How diabetes affects soft tissue.