Both types of diabetes, type 1 or insulin-dependent and type 2, can cause myriad health problems if blood glucose levels are not kept under tight control. One type of problem that can occur in diabetics is joint pain. One of the most commonly affected joints of the body is the knee joint. Pain in the knee joint can lead to decreased mobility and other problems.
Diabetes may contribute to the development of knee pain by causing nerve damage (neuropathy). Diabetic neuropathy can take several different forms. Peripheral neuropathy is damage to the sensory nerves in the extremities and is most common in the feet and lower legs. Autonomic neuropathy affects involuntary muscles and the organs of the body. Diabetic neuropathy occasionally can affect other parts of the body, such as the joints. Some people with diabetes will develop joint pain in their knees. This is a different type of joint pain from arthritis and may respond better to treatment with antidepressant or anticonvulsant medications that have shown to be effective in treating nerve pain than standard anti-inflammatory pain relieving drugs.
Diabetes has not been shown to cause arthritis, but there is a correlation between the two conditions. Type 1 diabetes is correlated to rheumatoid arthritis, likely because both are autoimmune conditions, where the body mistakenly attacks itself. Type 1 diabetes occurs when the immune system attacks the pancreatic cells that produce insulin. Rheumatoid arthritis occurs when the immune system produces antibodies that cause inflammation and damage in the joints throughout the body. People with a genetic predisposition to one type of autoimmune condition may be more likely to develop a second one. Type 1 diabetes itself doesn’t cause rheumatoid arthritis, but having another known autoimmune disease can be a risk factor.
Type 2 diabetics have a higher rate of osteoarthritis than the general population. Osteoarthritis is joint inflammation due to structural wear-and-tear on the joints over time rather than an autoimmune condition or a metabolic condition like gout. In this case, it seems as though the diabetes itself does not cause the arthritis, but there is an overlap of the demographic for both. People who are older than 55 and are overweight are more likely to develop both type 2 diabetes and osteoarthritis, especially in the knee joints.