Don’t Ignore That Pain: Frozen Shoulder May Be a Sign of Diabetes
Frozen shoulder and other muscle or joint problems are linked to diabetes.
Frozen shoulder and other muscle or joint problems are linked to diabetes.(Photo: iStock)

Don’t Ignore That Pain: Frozen Shoulder May Be a Sign of Diabetes

When my 57-year-old boss had some serious trouble with his shoulder, he initially brushed it off. “It’s just the result of working on my phone or laptop all day,” he thought.

He went around working with the discomfort for a few days, but the pain didn’t go away. He then went to a doctor friend of his to get it checked out. “It looks like a frozen shoulder,” the doctor friend told him and then casually slid in, “And hey, you may have diabetes, get your sugar tested.”

There went the red flag in my boss’ head and he double-checked what he heard. Turns out, there’s a link between diabetes and frozen shoulder (or other muscular and skeletal problems).

The Link Between Diabetes and Muscle Joint Disorders

High sugar interferes with the bone and cartilage formation, and uncontrolled diabetes could cause things like frozen shoulder.
High sugar interferes with the bone and cartilage formation, and uncontrolled diabetes could cause things like frozen shoulder.
(Photo: iStock)

Frozen shoulder is a condition that affects your shoulder joint and usually involves pain and stiffness that develops gradually, gets worse and then finally goes away in a period ranging between one and three years. It reduces mobility of shoulders.

Fortunately for my boss, his test indicated borderline diabetes. But on his doctor’s advice, he started taking precautions, reflecting in changes in his diet and exercise.

Frozen shoulder is one of those lesser-known diabetes complications, one that doesn't get discussed much as compared to vision loss, nerve damage, kidney issues and a host of others.

Diabetes and degenerative joint disorders, or osteoarthritis, cases are very common and go parallel to each other. This is because diabetes is directly linked to vitamin D deficiency, calcium deficiency, decreased immune response and osteoporosis. 
Dr SK Wangnoo, Sr Consultant Endocrinologist, Apollo Hospital

High sugar interferes with the bone and cartilage formation, and uncontrolled diabetes could cause things like frozen shoulder.

People above 50 who get a frozen shoulder should definitely get screened for diabetes. In fact, with any complication in the body, you should get a blood sugar test done, says Dr Sujeet Jha, Director, Endocrinology, Diabetes & Obesity, Max Hospital.

Dr Jha explains that diabetic people have greater risk of developing a frozen shoulder and it’s common in the elderly population.

Dr Wangnoo also adds that frozen shoulder is fairly common in diabetics, “From say 100 patients, 40 percent of them above the age of 50 years would have frozen shoulder.”

What Should You Do?

The treatment for this is fairly simple – sugar and diet control and physiotherapy.
The treatment for this is fairly simple – sugar and diet control and physiotherapy.
(Photo: iStock)

“A frozen shoulder is well... frozen, because you’re not using it and it gets physically stuck,” explains Dr Jha. “Most people who exercise will almost never get a frozen shoulder.”

So, while you should immediately get checked for diabetes, the treatment for this is fairly simple – sugar and diet control and physiotherapy.

No medication or surgery is needed unless it’s an extreme case and goes on for years without improvement. Massaging the area with a heating pad for 15 minutes twice or thrice a day helps.

Exercises for Frozen Shoulder

Here are some easy exercises you can do at home, as advised by a physiotherapist:

Towel stretch

  1. Hold one end of a three-foot-long towel behind your back and grab the opposite end with your other hand.
  2. Hold the towel in a horizontal position.
  3. Use your good arm to pull the affected arm upward to stretch it.

Cross-body reach

  1. Sit or stand.
  2. Use your good arm to lift your affected arm at the elbow and bring it up and across your body, exerting gentle pressure to stretch the shoulder.
  3. Hold the stretch for 15 to 20 seconds.

Armpit stretch

  1. Using your good arm, lift the affected arm onto a shelf about breast-high. Gently bend your knees, opening up the armpit.
  2. Deepen your knee bend slightly, gently stretching the armpit, and then straighten.
  3. With each knee bend, stretch a little further, but don’t force it.

Make sure that you do only light stretches so as to not strain the shoulder further. If the pain persists or increases, consult a doctor immediately.

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