7 Important Facts About Arthritis and Diabetes

Woman with ArthritisMore than half of the nearly 24 million Americans with diabetes also have osteoarthritis. It’s the most common kind of arthritis, which occurs when the cartilage that provides a cushion between bones wears away, causing inflammation, stiffness, and pain in joints.

One disease affects the other. “Controlling arthritis is critical to diabetes management and vice versa,” says John H. Klippel, MD, the president and CEO of the Arthritis Foundation in Atlanta. Staying active and at a healthy weight are key.

Here are seven important facts that can help you manage both conditions to help you stay healthier.

1. Weight gain makes osteoarthritis worse

Because of body mechanics, every pound you gain over your ideal body weight can cause a force on your hips and knees that’s four times greater. But even just a little weight loss goes a long way to reduce the wear and tear on those major weight-bearing joints. If losing just 10 pounds, for example, you’ll decrease the force on them with each step by 40 pounds. To reduce the risk of osteoarthritis, minimize pain and help prevent the disease from progressing, keep your weight in check or lose weight if you need to by watching portion sizes and being as physically active as you can. Losing weight and regular exercise can also help manage your diabetes.

2. Age increases risk

Although you can get osteoarthritis at any age, the older you become, the greater your chances of developing the disease. The majority of osteoarthritis suffers are over age 45. If you’re overweight, you’re at risk of developing the disease even earlier. You’re also more likely to get osteoarthritis if you injured a joint at some point in your life or if the disease runs in your family. Like diabetes, the tendency for osteoarthritis can be inherited.

3. Exercise reduces arthritis joint pain

Over time, physical activity actually reduces the pain of osteoarthritis surrounding an ailing joint and can be just as effective as taking pain medication. That’s because stronger muscles protect joints by absorbing the force placed upon them. They also help hold joints in a better position so they don’t wear out as quickly. Moreover, exercise helps keep your joints flexible. Focus on activities that strengthen the muscles surrounding an ailing joint, such as walking, swimming, and cycling, including using a stationary bike. Dr. Klippel recommends starting by walking for 30 minute every day; you can break it up into three 10-minute increments. Besides bolstering your joints, regular exercise helps with weight and blood sugar control.

4. Too much exercise can worsen osteoarthritis symptoms

Don’t overdo it. Just like too little exercise, too much physical activity can make the disease worse. To prevent overuse or further injury, monitor your pain level to make sure you’re not pushing yourself too hard. If it hurts to walk the day after taking a long hike, for example, take a break from walking that day but not from exercise. Try swimming or cycling on a regular or a stationary bike. Both types of activity are joint friendly and can help you stay active consistently. If you need help developing or sticking with an exercise program, consider working with a certified personal trainer or a physical therapist.

5. Osteoarthritis drugs won’t make your diabetes worse

To manage joint pain, ask your doctor about taking medication such as Tylenol (acetaminophen). It relieves pain and the side effects are minimal. If that doesn’t help, your doctor may recommend taking non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS), such as Advil or Aleve. None of these common pain relievers will affect your blood sugar, but be sure to take them as directed in the correct dosage to minimize or avoid side effects.

6. Taking glucosamine/chondroitin may help relieve arthritis pain

“This popular over-the-counter nutritional supplement for osteoarthritis suffers may help relieve pain and keep the cartilage you have left healthier,” says Mary I. O’Connor, MD, chair of the department of orthopedic surgery at the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Florida. Still, she admits that the studies are mixed about whether it actually helps relieve pain. If you want to try glucosamine/chondroitin, Dr. O’Connor recommends taking it for two months to see if you notice a difference. Also, play it safe by monitoring your blood sugar level closely to make sure the supplement isn’t affecting your blood sugar. And ask your doctor for a glucosamine/chondroitin brand she recommends. Nutritional supplements aren’t regulated by the Food and Drug Administration like prescription medication is so it’s tough to know what you’re really buying.

7. Worn-out joints can be replaced, but you’ll need to be fit for surgery

If your X-rays show there’s little to no cartilage cushioning your joints and everyday activities such as walking around the block, driving your car or taking the stairs are extremely painful even with medication, you’re a contender for joint replacement (arthroplasty). The surgery, which can replace worn-out hips, knees, and shoulders with a prosthetic, can make walking and more rigorous physical activity possible again and pain-free. To be a candidate for this procedure, you’ll need to have your blood sugar under good control. Managing your blood sugar well will help reduce your risk of infection after the surgery. Exercise before surgery is also important. Strong muscles can speed recovery from the operation so you can get back on your feet faster.