Diabetes Self-Management Blog

One extremely common, if not always severe, condition associated with diabetes receives comparatively little discussion relative to other diabetes complications: Soft-tissue damage (believed to result from a buildup of glucose in the affected tissue) that leads to a fusing-together of collagen fibers and potentially constricts movement of the area.

Soft-tissue damage often occurs as frozen shoulder, characterized by pain throughout the shoulder and decreased range of motion in the joint. It can affect one or both shoulders. The condition usually starts with a “freezing” phase, in which there is an onset of a dull or aching pain and a loss of motion in the shoulder. This phase is followed by a “frozen” stage that is marked by an improvement in pain but with remaining stiffness. The final stage is “thawing,” during which the motion of the shoulder returns to normal. A recent article in The New York Times highlights the high prevalence of frozen shoulder in people with diabetes: At least 20% have it at some point, compared with between 2% and 5% of the general population.

Without the link between diabetes and soft-tissue damage in mind, people with diabetes might not think to mention the problem during diabetes-related checkups. They might even think of it as a consequence of stress or aging that doesn’t merit any thought or mention. Similarly, doctors might not think to highlight the relationship between blood glucose control and joint stiffness when a patient has not already raised the issue as a concern. And as the Times article notes, there are effective treatments for soft-tissue damage.

Have you had frozen shoulder or another soft-tissue complication? If so, do you feel that you were diagnosed and treated promptly and adequately? Do you have any advice or tips for others who experience this problem? Leave a comment below!

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Comments
  1. Wow-
    Didn’t think I’d ever see anything on one of my biggest frustrations after having survived with Type 1 diabetes for over 45 years now.
    Both of my shoulders are impacted and the limitations this causes can be “frustrating”, to say the least. Watching me get into, or out of, a sport coat or suit jacket looks like someone trying to escape a straight jacket and can be extremely uncomfortable. Handing something to someone seated behind you is next to impossible also.
    When this condition first arose some relief came from having the shoulder joint treated with cortisone and then literally inflated with a sterile saline solution like a water balloon. The stretching this caused provided an extended period of relief and greater range of motion but over time the shoulder joint would eventually start to seize up again.
    The last time I tried to get relief from this condition it involved an attempt at minimally invasive surgery and the wearing of an extremely uncomfortable device that kept my arm raised upright for 21 days, and then followed by 6 weeks of excruciating rehabilitation that in the end provided me with little or no real relief.
    Since that time (1996) I’ve pretty well learned to live with this condition and until someone can tell me they’ve found some new, successful form of treatment I’ll continue to do just that.

    Posted by James D.Taylor |
  2. Yes, was bothered with pain and lack of range of motion. Brought it to the attention of my dr. and he diagnosed something-can’t remember what-then his next diagnosis was torn rotator cuff and sent me to an ortho surgeon. After a few min. in the exam room he diagnosed frozen shoulder. Got injections of lidocane and kenalog along with 6 wks. of PT. Now free of the pain and range of motion is normal.

    Posted by Connie |
  3. I have had it twice and both times were related to high blood glucose. Had the above mentioned lidocane or something similar some time ago. Now I have normal range of motion and no pain, and another good reason to keep my diabetes under tight control.

    Posted by Conrad G. Creitz |
  4. Had this problem several times in both arm, Fortunately not at same time. Eventually disappeared in left arm. Right started some time after. I went swimming and forgot to be careful of using it. Hurt pretty bad at first but pain was diminished and mobility increasde as I continued swimming. No problem since. Worth a try.

    Posted by Don Shickle |
  5. I had several issues with my left shoulder. When I went in for surgery to remove bone spurs, they discovered it was frozen so took care of that too. I don’t know if it was related to diabetes or the fact that I wasn’t moving my arm much do to the pain of the bone spurs.

    Posted by Becky |
  6. I’ve never heard of this — and I feel relieved to know that this may be the reason for my joint problems. Just wondering…can this problem affect other joints besides the shoulders? My problem began with my shoulders. However, I now have the same problem with other joints, the most severe being my hips. Could sfot-tissue damage be the culprit for my hip stiffness and pain?

    Posted by Joanna Pelkey |
  7. Yes, I get it, in my hips. It hurts…and my range of motion becomes severely limited. Was I diagnosed properly? No. Treated for the right condition? No. I researched for myself diabetes and joint pain, and figured out what it was and told my physiotherapist myself, he agreed and tried to treat it. Didn’t help much, and some of the treatments hurt worse than I did normally. I would love to hear more about what helps. My hips are sooo stiff and sore at the moment!! Have been for awhile. But as you say above, it comes on for awhile and goes away for awhile (months of each).

    Posted by Heidi |
  8. I had this problem with my shoulders to the point where I had to go buy a really soft mattress to get any sleep at all…..
    However it all disappeared in time when I finally discovered that keeping blood sugar levels as close to normal as possible made a lot of nasty things disappear — it take take some time though.
    Even with my insulin, the start of a low carb diet made me a new person.

    Posted by John_C |
  9. Had this problem in my right shoulder a few years ago; pain and limited motion. Cortisone shot and anti-inflamatory pills did not help. The condition improved to a great extend by PT and excercise.

    Posted by I. Rustom |
  10. Have had a lot of trouble with joints. A1C is at 8.8…and that is down…so getting better.

    I have had 10 trigger fingers…frozen shoulder and now have stiffness in my hip joints. On Celebrex…not really helping a whole lot.

    getting back into exercise routine…hopefully it helps. My feet are sore….just feel pretty awful. EVERYTHING I have is diagnosed as complications of diabetes … 21 years type 1.

    Just frustrated and feel bad. Hopefully this will improve with my dedication to put myself first….cholesterol is 154….but soft tissue damage is really taking a toll on my body!!!

    Posted by BGreen |
  11. I also have frozen shoulder in my right shoulder and I feel this coming on in my left. I have had trigger finger in both hands and operations on both. I have a stiff right hip too. I am glad to have found this site, I thought all of this was just me. I will work very hard to get my a1c down. It is at 9.0 right now. I have had diabetes type 1 for 30 years and it sure is showing now. Thanks everyone for the advice and good luck to all of you.

    Posted by Dina |

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