The Link Between Type 1 Diabetes and Musculoskeletal Conditions

September 07,2022 |
Older woman stretching on a mat.

Musculoskeletal (MSK) conditions currently affect 1.7 billion people around the world. Although older individuals are more likely to suffer from MSK conditions, they can affect people of all ages. However, musculoskeletal conditions can lead to a rapid decline in mobility and overall dexterity, making them one of the biggest causes of disability and inability to work. Previous research suggested that living with type 1 diabetes could increase your risk for developing musculoskeletal conditions, but the extent of the relationship was unknown. However, it’s recently been determined that these two conditions are inherently connected and have a high causation relationship. To learn more about these new findings, here’s a brief overview regarding the link between type 1 diabetes and musculoskeletal conditions.  


What is Type 1 Diabetes?

Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disorder where the immune system attacks insulin-producing cells located within the pancreas. Insulin is an essential hormone that helps blood sugar permeate into cells so that it can be converted to energy and used by your body. When you have type 1 diabetes, you’re unable to regulate blood sugar levels and therefore need continual care to ensure that your body is able to process foods and beverages without complication. If you were to forego medical assistance, sugar would continue to accumulate in the bloodstream and lead to life threatening circumstances.

While there’s a thorough understanding of type 1 diabetes and how it affects various systems in your body, the underlying cause is relatively unknown. This is similar for many autoimmune disorders. It seems to be due to a combination of both genetic and environmental factors. The onset of type 1 diabetes tends to occur between the ages of three or four and seven, then again between 10 and 14, however it can occur at any age—even during adulthood. For this reason, it's important that you understand the warning signs of type 1 diabetes and seek medical assistance if you develop any symptoms. Doing so will help you avoid long-term complications from high blood sugar levels. Some of the most common symptoms of type 1 diabetes include increased urination, dehydration, increased appetite, weight loss, nausea, vomiting, and diabetic ketoacidosis.


What are Musculoskeletal Conditions?

Musculoskeletal conditions are conditions that affect the bones, muscles, and joints. They may also include a few forms of autoimmune diseases. There are currently over 200 different types of musculoskeletal conditions that affect individuals. Musculoskeletal conditions are often grouped based on which part of the locomotor system they affect. Some examples are as follows:

  • Joints: rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, osteoarthritis, gout, spondylarthritis
  • Bones: osteoporosis, osteopenia, traumatic fractures
  • Muscles: sarcopenia
  • Regional Areas: neck and back pain, fibromyalgia, inflammatory diseases, vasculitis, systemic lupus erythematosus, amputation due to disease or trauma

Individuals who have one or more musculoskeletal conditions make up the highest concentration of global rehabilitation patients across both children and adults. Unfortunately, they tend to co-exist with other noncommunicable or autoimmune diseases, which can make it difficult for ongoing care and management. This co-existence also increases the risk of other complications such as cardiovascular disease and mental health issues.


The Link Between Type 1 Diabetes and Musculoskeletal Conditions

While several different types of musculoskeletal conditions exist, research indicates that type 1 diabetes may play a large causal role in their onset. Specifically, there are four MSK conditions that are now considered a direct complication of type 1 diabetes. These include frozen shoulder, carpal tunnel syndrome, trigger finger, and Dupuytren’s contracture.

Frozen Shoulder 

Frozen shoulder is considered one of the most debilitating forms of musculoskeletal problems, as it can cause severe restriction of movement along with intense pain. It’s medically known as adhesive capsulitis, shoulder periarthritis, or obliterative bursitis. Type 1 diabetes can greatly increase your risk of frozen shoulder, which in turn can lead to other complications like limited mobility.

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

Carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) is a type of musculoskeletal condition that leads to pain throughout the hand and fingers. This is caused by compression of the nerves that pass through the carpal bones that make up your wrist. There are several treatments available and in serious cases, surgery may be recommended.

Trigger Finger

This is a condition that occurs when one of your fingers gets stuck in a bent position. It occurs similar to how your finger would move if it was pulling a trigger or releasing one, thus its name. Medically, it’s known as stenosing tenosynovitis and is caused by inflammation between the tendons in the affected fingers. Type 1 diabetes has been shown to increase the risk of developing trigger finger.

Dupuytren’s Contracture

This is a condition that’s characterized by the thickening, tethering, or contracture of the palms or digits. It tends to be roughly four to five times more common in individuals with type 1 diabetes than the general public and can lead to pain, limited mobility, and difficulty with dexterity.

Researchers took an investigative approach to determine the causal link between these conditions and type 1 diabetes. Using a statistical technique called Mendelian randomization, it was found that type 1 diabetes directly increased the risk of developing these four musculoskeletal conditions. This is likely due to the relationship between MSK conditions and high blood sugar. It’s also been found that cheiroarthropathy (limited joint mobility) is associated with type 1 diabetes, especially in individuals who have had diabetes for 30 years or longer.

In addition to these musculoskeletal conditions, type 1 diabetes greatly increases the risk of individuals developing other complications, especially cardiovascular disease, neuropathy, kidney disease, and eye disease or vision problems. To safeguard your health and reduce the risk of complications, including the development of autoimmune disorders like MSK conditions, it’s important to properly manage your diabetes and address any signs of further issues as soon as possible. Talk to your doctor if you have any alarming symptoms, utilize proactive diabetes care, and see your doctor for regular health checkups.


Preventative Measures to Take to Reduce Your Risk of Autoimmune Disorders

Unfortunately, if you’re living with type 1 diabetes, daily management can feel overwhelming. However, by taking care of yourself and adopting healthy lifestyle habits, you can reduce your risk for further complications, including musculoskeletal conditions. The best way to do this is to support your body’s immune system and try to reduce chronic inflammation. One of the biggest preventable causes of inflammation is processed foods, so adopting a healthy diet of whole, nutritious food is a great way to stay proactive. This will also help you better manage your type 1 diabetes, so it’s worth the effort. While you don’t need to completely eradicate all of your favorite foods from your diet, adopting an 80/20 or 90/10 rule will make a big difference on your overall health and longevity.

Focusing on improving the health of your digestive tract and microbiome may also help reduce inflammation and the risk of further autoimmune disorders. Gut health plays a huge role in the overall health of your body and by balancing your microbiome, you’ll reap several benefits. A great way to do this includes eating fermented foods like kimchi, yogurt, sauerkraut, and kombucha. While probiotics may help, there is conflicting evidence regarding their efficacy. Talk to your doctor for more information on improving your gut health.

Another way to help reduce your risk for various MSK conditions is to get plenty of exercise. The American Diabetic Association (ADA) recommends that individuals living with any type of diabetes engage in at least 150 minutes of aerobic exercise and resistance training every week. This can be a combination of the two, but performing activities that keep your heart healthy and your muscles strong are great ways to reduce the risk of musculoskeletal conditions. However, since MSK conditions deal with the bones, joints, and muscles, taking the time to warm up and stretch after a workout is essential. This can significantly reduce the incidence of the progression of MSK conditions and help you manage your diabetes more effectively.

Utilizing diabetes medications, such as insulin, is also non-negotiable. Doing what you can to stabilize your blood sugar levels each day will help reduce the risk of developing any other, more serious complications. If you’re living with type 1 diabetes and don’t utilize pharmacological assistance, it can quickly become fatal. If you experience any signs of diabetes distress, talk to your doctor or seek help from a professional. You should also ensure you’re getting plenty of rest each night and address any nutrient deficiencies.

Living with type 1 diabetes can increase your risk for developing subsequent autoimmune disorders, but there are a few measures you can take to reduce your risk. If you have type 1 diabetes and another autoimmune disease, talk to your doctor to determine the best management plan to address each condition. To help you live a healthy life, Byram Healthcare has a range of diabetes management products, including our Caring Touch at Home™ Program.