It is common for people with diabetes to experience chronic pain, including chronic back pain. So common, in fact, that a reported 20% to over 60% of diabetics report having chronic pain. Next to neuropathy pain in the feet and hands, back pain is the other most reported form of pain experienced by people with diabetes. Chronic back pain can profoundly affect an individual’s quality of life. It can make physical activity difficult, can interrupt healthy sleeping patterns and otherwise make getting through the day a challenge. Not only that, diabetics with chronic back pain can struggle to find support within their family and community as they have an ‘invisible’ condition that can be easily dismissed.
Diabetes and Chronic Pain
Chronic pain is defined as pain that lasts longer than six months. Certain conditions involve chronic pain that lasts for years. For people with diabetes and chronic back pain, there is no limit to the time the pain will stick around. The issue of chronic pain gets even more complicated when the brain-body connection is taken into account. While some chronic pain can be leftover from an old injury, sometimes the pain being felt in the back is being created by the mind as well.
Psychosomatic pain occurs when the mind experiences a certain level of emotional stress and instead of processing it, triggers something in the body instead. This is a kind of ‘mental bypassing’ that the brain utilises in order to avoid experiencing psychological pain. It is still unclear to researchers as to why psychosomatic pain affects different parts of the body in different people. For people with chronic back pain, it could simply be that the nerve endings in their backs are more sensitive and thus more likely to react to psychological stress.
There are many factors, both physical and psychological, that can contribute to chronic back pain in diabetics. Inflammation is one such factor and is especially prevalent in people with type 2 diabetes. Type 2 diabetes occurs when the body stops being able to produce enough insulin to manage blood sugar levels. Alternately, sometimes it is the case that the body ceases to be able to adequately manage its insulin levels. Either way, the result is internal inflammation that has a reverberating effect on the rest of the body. This inflammation can affect the back—especially the low back—which contributes to back pain in people with diabetes.
Needless to say, there are a limitless amount of pharmaceuticals available to help diabetics both manage their condition as well as treat their chronic pain. While some of these medications may be necessary for the treatment of diabetes, lifestyle choices can play a big part in an individual’s ability to manage their chronic back pain. Here are some factors to keep in mind when working to lower inflammation in your body and stress in your mind. These are relevant to both type 1 and type 2 diabetes.
Eating well is key when managing diabetes and the chronic pain that sometimes accompanies the condition. It is important to eat a balanced diet of fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins and healthy fats. Saturated fats and refined sugars should be avoided whenever possible.
Excessive weight gain is a contributing factor for type 2 diabetics. That being said, a healthy weight is important for both type 1 and type 2 diabetics. Proper diet and regular exercise can help with weight loss and weight maintenance when a healthy weight is achieved. It is also best to consume alcohol in moderation and with food to prevent spikes in blood sugar levels.
Daily exercise is key to managing blood sugar levels. Thirty minutes a day is recommended and it is best to do a variety of activities that allow for aerobic and resistance training. There are more benefits when cardio and strength training are done in combination instead of just one type of activity.
Managing diabetes is an ongoing ordeal that can place a lot of stress on the individual with the condition. This is especially true when there is chronic back pain involved. So it is important to manage one’s mental health as diligently as one’s physical health. Activities such as yoga, meditation and nature walks can help to alleviate mental stress. It is also important to get enough sleep on a regular basis.
While chronic back pain is common in diabetics, it does not have to be a limiting factor in one’s life. There are plenty of people living happy, healthy lives despite their diabetes. By prioritising self-care and being mindful of stress levels, these people are able to effectively manage, reduce and sometimes even eliminate their chronic back pain.
Dansinger, Michael, MD. “Diabetes and Inflammation,” WebMD. June 10, 2015. Accessed December 05, 2016. http://www.webmd.com/diabetes/type-2-diabetes-guide/inflammation-and-diabetes#2
“Diabetes.” Diabetes – Mayo Clinic. July 31, 2013. Accessed December 05, 2016. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/diabetes/basics/definition/con-20033091.
Spero, David, RN. “Managing Chronic Pain – Diabetes Self-Management.” Diabetes Self-Management. October 7, 2009. Accessed December 05, 2016. http://www.diabetesselfmanagement.com/managing-diabetes/complications-prevention/managing-chronic-pain/.