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

3. Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

We’ve all heard about this one, and it doesn’t just affect receptionists. There is a ligament that runs across the palm, and sometimes that ligament presses upon the hand’s central nerve, causing carpal tunnel syndrome.

Diabetes contributes to carpal tunnel when collagen glycation, exacerbated by high blood sugar, causes the ligaments to thicken and put more pressure on the central nerve. Diabetic nerve damage (neuropathy) may also contribute by making the nerves more susceptible to carpal tunnel.

Those with carpal tunnel often complain of burning, tingling, or numbness in their hands, and there may be pain up through the forearm. Those suffering from carpal tunnel often wake up during the night due to burning or tingling, and the condition is exacerbated by activities that involve using the wrist or holding the hand still for long periods.

Treatment may include using splints, performing stretching or strengthening exercises, shaking the hand out to get blood flowing, using anti-inflammatory drugs, or even undergoing surgery.

4. Dupuytren’s Disease

Dupuytren’s disease, or Dupuytren’s contracture, prevents someone from being able to fully extend their fingers or, in many cases, just one finger. The fourth and fifth fingers (pinky and ring finger) are most often affected, and the disease begins when small lumps form on the palm’s connective tissue and cause the tissue to gradually thicken and shorten. This eventually leads to decreased mobility. This issue may be caused by thickening collagen as a result of glycation.

Dupuytren’s disease is a serious condition that may start with just a small lump in the hand that spreads over time. It can eventually be so debilitating that an affected person would not be able to drive a car. Treatment generally includes surgery, but recurrence rates are high. The condition tends to run in families.

5. Frozen Shoulder

This isn’t specifically a hand complication, but it shares an underlying cause; connective tissues thicken and prevent the arm from being able to move through a full range of motion. This is a serious condition that can make a shoulder so stiff that it would be hard to get dressed, and it causes intense pain. Frozen shoulder sometimes manifests after an injury or stroke. This condition affects 10 to 20 percent of people with diabetes and is more common in women.

Frozen shoulder moves through three stages. The first stage involves increasing pain and decreasing range of motion and lasts about 6 weeks to 9 months. During the second stage, the shoulder is “frozen” and stiff, but pain decreases. The final stage is when mobility slowly increases until it reaches nearly its full range. The condition usually clears within 2 years. Treatment may include physical therapy or surgery.

Read more about frozen shoulder here.


Prevention strategies for these hand complications include:

  • Stretching. Stiffening joins can be a dangerous cycle. A join hurts, so it doesn’t get moved. But the less a joint is moved, the more it will stiffen. Gentle stretching can help break the cycle.
  • Hot and cold compresses.
  • Pain medication.
  • Massage to increase relaxation and blood flow.
  • Physical therapy.
  • Splinting (talk to your doctor about what splints are best).

Our hands are amazingly intricate and valuable tools. An elaborate system of joints, tendons, bones, and blood vessels allows us to execute highly detailed movements, but there is also a lot that can go wrong. Take good care of your hands, and take a moment to appreciate all they can do!

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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.