If you have diabetes, you know that it doesn't just affect your blood sugar levels. Diabetes may also affect the way your skin feels and the way your hands move and increase your risk of developing certain hand disorders. The best thing you can do to reduce your risk of diabetes-related hand pain is to keep good control of your blood sugar. However, if your hands act up, take heart: a number of over-the-counter therapies are available to help prevent and relieve hand pain.
Protect the Skin You're In
Let's start at the surface. Diabetes weakens your immune system and limits blood flow, reducing the amount of oxygen that reaches your skin tissue. This can lead to dry, itchy skin and an increased risk of skin infections.
Fortunately, simple daily habits can help you keep your skin hydrated and healthy:
- Stop cracks in their tracks. Keep your hands hydrated by moisturizing regularly. The American Diabetes Association (ADA) recommends using an ointment such as Vaseline before bed to deliver extra nourishing oils to your skin while you sleep.
- Scent-free is safest. Avoid scented lotions. According to the ADA, fragrant lotion on your fingers can cause falsely high blood sugar test results. Remember to wash your hands before testing, even if you use an unscented product.
- Baby yourself in the bath. Avoid hot water and harsh bubbles. Instead, shower or soak in comfortably warm water, and reach only for moisturizing soaps and shampoos.
- Use gloves. The simplest way to protect your hands is to seek cover. Use dishwashing gloves at the kitchen sink, pull on warm gloves when you head out into the cold, and when your skin is especially dry, slip on a pair of light, cotton gloves after applying lotion to your hands. They'll help your skin absorb moisture.
Stay on Top of Underlying Issues
Under the surface of your skin, diabetes is believed to damage your tendons, ligaments, and other connective tissue. The ADA reports that this may be caused by abnormal bonding between sugars and other molecules in your body, spurring a collagen buildup that thickens your connective tissue. These changes can limit normal movement and sensation in your hands.
The most common diabetes-related hand disorders include the following:
- Carpal tunnel is caused by compression in a ligament that houses the main nerve in your hand. Symptoms include numbness and tingling in your hands, which may worsen at night and wake you from sleep.
- Trigger finger is caused by damage to the tendons that flex your fingers. With this condition, your finger becomes locked in a bent position. Sometimes, your finger may snap back into a straight position; sometimes, it won't straighten at all.
- Dupuytren's contracture occurs when tissue beneath the skin of your palm becomes stiff. You may first notice one or more lumps near the base of your fingers. Over time, those lumps can spread out into bands that hold one or more of your fingers in a bent position. The condition is usually painless.
Over-the-counter therapies for these conditions include splints, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), heat, and ice. The right combination depends on your specific hand condition.
Experts across the United States have weighed in on your best bets in most categories. U.S. News & World Report recently used survey results from thousands of pharmacists to produce a list of the most-recommended products for people with symptoms like yours—the OTC guide. Use this simple guide of pharmacist-favorites to determine the best treatment for your condition:
|Carpal Tunnel||Trigger Finger||Dupuytren's Contracture||U.S. News & World Report Recommends|
|NSAIDs||X||X||Advil, Aleve, or Motrin|
|Ice||X||Grab an ice pack, or fill a sandwich bag with ice from your freezer.|
Stretching and strengthening exercises may also be helpful for these hand conditions. Talk with your doctor or physical therapist.
High blood sugar leads to nerve damage (neuropathy) in about 50 percent of people with diabetes, according to the American Academy of Neurology (AAN). Numbness, tingling, and burning in the feet and legs are common, but can also occur in the hands and arms. Try these oral and topical treatments to get your pain under control:
- NSAIDs. Readily-available choices such as Advil and Aleve can help to reduce inflammation and pain.
- Transcutaneous electric nerve stimulation (TENS): A TENS unit is a portable device that transmits pain-blocking signals through electrodes on your skin. The AAN says that TENS may be an effective treatment for diabetic nerve pain.
- Capsaicin: Creams that contain an extract of the hot pepper called capsicum may block pain signals when applied to your skin. Capsaicin cream is FDA-approved for this purpose, as Joslin Diabetes Center notes. U.S. News & World Report's surveyed pharmacists rated Capzasin as their number-one choice.
- Alpha-lipoic acid: This antioxidant may help relieve symptoms of neuropathy. According to WebMD, it may even protect against further diabetes-related nerve damage. Look for Nature Made Diabetes Health Packs, which include alpha-lipoic acid along with several other vitamins that may help you manage diabetes.
This article is not a substitute for medical advice and is not intended to treat or cure any disease. Advances in medicine may cause this information to become outdated, invalid, or subject to debate. Professional opinions and interpretations of scientific literature may vary. Consult your healthcare professional before making changes to your diet, exercise, or medication regimen.
American Diabetes Association, Skin Care Tips for Your Hands
American Diabetes Association, Common Hand Disorders
Merck Manual for Professionals, Carpal Tunnel
NINDS, Carpal Tunnel
Merck Manual for Consumers, Trigger Finger
Joslin Diabetes Center, Diabetic Neuropathy
American Diabetes Association, Winter Skin Care
Mayo Clinic, Diabetic Neuropathy
American Academy of Neurology, Therapies for Treating Diabetic Nerve Pain
U.S. News & World Report, Pharmacists' Top Picks
American Diabetes Association, Skin Care
MedlinePlus, Dupuytren Contracture
NORD, Dupuytren Contracture