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An Overview of Diabetes and Chronic Back Pain

Published September 6, 2017

Did you know that more than 29 million U.S. adults have diabetes, and 25 percent of them don’t even know it? Those numbers were reported by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The 25 percent breaks down to (and get ready for this) 8 million Americans who experience diabetic symptoms but are unaware that they relate to this disease.

So, what is this disease and what are those symptoms?

What is Diabetes:

Diabetes describes a group of metabolic diseases in which the person has high blood glucose (blood sugar) or low blood glucose, either because insulin production is inadequate, or because the body's cells do not respond properly to insulin or both, according to Medical News Today. A diabetic has to check their blood sugar levels normally six times a day, before a meal and two hours after, in order to maintain healthy glucose levels as well as to just feel good. There are two main types of diabetes.

What is Type 1 Diabetes:

The Mayo Clinic describes type 1 diabetes, also called insulin-dependent diabetes as a chronic condition where the pancreas produces little or no insulin, a hormone needed to allow sugar (glucose) to enter cells in order to produce energy. Without energy, it can be hard to walk up a small flight of stairs without needing a break or literally hurting. Without insulin, your body goes out of whack, increasing your blood sugar levels causing severe symptoms leading to a coma if left untreated (more on that in a bit) and on the contrary, low blood sugar, which can result in seizures or in severe cases, death.

What is Type 2 Diabetes:

Type 2 diabetes, once known as adult-onset or non-insulin-dependent diabetes, is a chronic condition that affects the way your body metabolizes sugar (glucose), your body's important source of fuel. What distinguishes a type 2 from a type 1 is the fact that type 2s still produce insulin, but the body basically rejects it or doesn't make enough.

We mentioned above that there are physical and even mental symptoms that go into high blood sugar levels (as well as low levels). Here we will briefly describe those symptoms.

What are Low Blood Sugar Symptoms:

  • Confusion, heart palpitations, shakiness, lightheadedness, and anxiety
  • Excess sweating, excessive hunger, fainting, fatigue
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Mental confusion or unresponsiveness
  • Dryness or tingling lips
  • Blurred vision, headache, irritability, pallor, sensation of pins and needles, sleepiness, slurred speech, tremor or unsteadiness
  • Seizures
  • Coma
  • Death

What are High Blood Sugar Symptoms:

  • Increased thirst (picture yourself running a marathon in a dessert)
  • Headaches
  • Trouble concentrating and blurred vision
  • Frequent urination
  • Fatigue (weak, tired feeling)
  • Weight loss
  • Blood sugar more than 180 mg/dL
  • Vaginal and skin infections
  • Slow-healing cuts and sores
  • Poor vision
  • Nerve damage causing painful cold or insensitive feet, loss of hair on the lower extremities, or erectile dysfunction
  • Stomach and intestinal problems such as chronic constipation or diarrhea
  • Damage to your eyes, blood vessels or kidneys

They say that a picture is worth 1,000 words so would a video be 10,000? In order to better illustrate what it's really like living with diabetes, take a few minutes and watch this video. 

Being a diabetic is literally a balancing act. Picture yourself trying to walk a tightrope while drying your hair. Now add chronic back pain to the mix.

Steve B. of Dallas, Texas, is a type 1 diabetic and fellow Backer. He took his story to an online thread where adult type 1s discuss physical and mental daily challenges. Let's examine.

It's crazy how the body works. I can't say for certain that T1D has or has not played a part in my constant orthopedic struggle. What you are looking at, is a before and after picture.
In the before picture, I had two previous neck surgeries followed shortly thereafter, with a spinal cord stimulator (SCS). Short story, the SCS surgery did not take. I had it implanted again. The reason for this was a botched surgery... TWICE!

Before and after of two neck surgeries.

They removed it. They removed ALL the hardware. They removed a bone spur in my neck. Since the neck was fused, the hardware in front was not needed. Although they implanted an artificial disc in front. Phew!

Ironically, other type ones jumped right in, briefly relating their story to Steve's.

Lori S. from Reidsville, North Carolina wrote, “I have problems with my L4 & L5, which I thought was caused by a car wreck! That's been 5 years and it's not getting better. I wonder if this explains it? No insurance, so no MRI or surgery since the wreck.”

Brian M. of Triadelphia, West Virginia added, “I am going through similar problems from my previous L3-S1 fusions. The Docs attribute the new problems to T1.”

Steve and Brian had a dialogue for a few minutes going back and forth.

Steve B.: I'm sorry dude. It's awful, especially when it's about to rain. We're human barometers.
Brian M.: Yes. T1 complications are brutal. My legs were amputated last year
Steve B.: Man I'm so sorry. My father-in-law is a Vietnam Veteran. He has a lot of problems. One of which is T2D (type two). Now, as this group is T1D, I know the 2 types differ like night and day. But when compilations arise, such as amputations... that's when it gets frightening. He had to have his left leg amputated. It was quite awful. I don't really have the words. Sir, you are very brave for what you had to sacrifice.
Brian M. Walking with prosthetics and diabetic nerve damage have caused back problems again. I don't consider myself brave. I just adapt. Thank you though.

Steve continues to explain why he posted this information online.

My reason for posting is: no matter WHAT always, always listen to your body. As a T1D, you are already accustomed to this. Science and technology today is way better than it was in 1982. I was 16 months old diagnosed [as a] T1D.
Take care of yourself, T1Ds. I go in tomorrow to discuss artificial disc placement in my lower back.

If you have type 1 diabetes and follow a healthy diet, receive adequate exercise, take insulin as needed and check your blood sugar levels regularly, you can lead a normal life. Those methods of treatment sound an awful like a regime laid out by your doctor for your chronic back pain.

If you have type 2 diabetes, you need to eat healthily and remain physically active in order to live a normal life. Once again, that regime sounds similar to what your medical team may recommend to you for your chronic back pain.

When it comes to maintaining your blood sugar levels and your chronic back pain, it's all about listening to your body, eating healthy and exercising —whether that is aquatic therapy, physical therapy, choosing to walk around the neighborhood or taking the stairs instead of an elevator. It really is all about choices.

You are in charge of your body. Whether you have type 1 diabetes, type 2 with back pain or just chronic back pain, you are the one who either says “yes” to living or “no” to healing.

Steve B.: Check your sugars often. Insulate. Exercise. Eat as you do. Don't deprive yourself. Just limit yourself with the sweet indulgences. Be good everyone.

We will leave you with this. An entertaining real life video of a type one diabetic female presenting her daily life and diabetic challenges in an amusing way. After all, regardless of our conditions or pain levels, we still need our humor to live and be happy, right?

Updated: June 5, 2021

Information provided within this article is for educational purposes and is not a substitute for medical advice. Those seeking specific medical advice should consult his or her doctor or surgeon. If you need to consult with a specialist, you may be able find a health care provider in our Specialist Finder. SpineNation does not endorse treatments, procedures, products or physicians.

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