Diabetes and Hand Complications: What You Need To Know About 5 Common Disorders

You’ve likely heard of diabetes-related foot complications (if not, check out the article here), and perhaps you already have a solid foot care regimen in place. If so, that’s great! But feet aren’t the only body part that diabetes can do a number on—hand complications are a common frustration of people with diabetes as well.

The conditions seem to be caused, at least in part, by the stiffening of connective tissues, mostly collagen. Collagen should be firm but flexible, but when it stiffens, mobility is compromised. According to Dr. David Gorman of Western University in Ontario, “In people with diabetes, the collagen can get covered in glucose molecules, which some suspect causes a thickening of the tissue.” This thickening or stiffening of collagen tissue, or glycation, seems to be a key contributor to many diabetes-related hand complications.

Diabetes Forecast notes that people with type 1 diabetes are more likely to experience hand complications than those with type 2, but a 2013 study on 200 type 2 patients found that 67% of subjects had one or more hand disorders. Regardless of diabetes type, risk for hand disorders increases with the length of time someone has had diabetes, and, while hand disorders aren’t usually as serious as diabetes-related foot disorders, considering the intricacy of our hands and how much they do for us, keeping them in tip-top shape should be of utmost importance.

Here are the 5 most common diabetes-related hand disorders and what to look out for.

1. Limited Joint Mobility

This is sometimes referred to as cheiroarthropathy or stiff hand syndrome. It’s not the most creatively named condition, but it’s descriptive—it refers to an inability to straighten the hand joints. A person with this condition would not be able to assume the “prayer position,” which is holding your palms together with the heels of the hand and all the finger joints touching each other.

Limited joint mobility is known as the most common diabetes-related hand complication and occurs in both those with type 1 and type 2 diabetes. Joint mobility may be improved with better glucose control. The condition limits mobility but is painless and may also be treated with hand exercises.

2. Trigger Finger

Trigger finger, or tenosynovitis, affects the tendons and is most often found in the hand and wrist. Finger tendons move through a tunnel of tissues, and when those tendons become inflamed, they are not able to move smoothly and may lock in a bent position. It takes a painful snap to straighten the finger, and if the condition is severe, the finger may not straighten at all.

Again, thickening collagen is at the root of this condition. As the collagen thickens, it becomes increasingly difficult for the finger to straighten. Treatments include injections or surgery.

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Katie Taylor started writing in 5th grade and hasn't stopped since. Her favorite place to pen a phrase is in front of her fireplace with a cup of tea, but she's been known to write in parking lots on the backs of old receipts if necessary. She and her husband live cozily in the Pacific Northwest enjoying rainy days and Netflix.