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Hand Dexterity and Diabetes Self-Care

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 1 in 10 Americans has diabetes. About 90 to 95 percent of those have type 2 diabetes (T2D). People over 45 are most likely to develop T2D. But more children, teens, and young adults are now being diagnosed with the condition.1

As these numbers go up, so does the number of people with T2D-related complications. Common complications include heart disease, kidney disease, and nerve damage. Nerve damage caused by diabetes is known as diabetic neuropathy.1,2

What are common hand complications of type 2 diabetes?

Peripheral neuropathy is nerve damage to the hands and feet. Diabetes-related damage to the feet is studied much more often. Common hand complications of T2D include:2

  • Stiff hand syndrome
  • Dupuytren's contracture
  • Trigger finger
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome

Stiff hand syndrome usually begins with the little finger, moving down to the thumb. Thick, waxy skin may form on the back of your hand. Your finger movement becomes limited.3

Dupuytren's contracture causes the layer of tissue under the skin to thicken. You may have trouble laying your hand flat on a table. Your fingers may be pulled forward.4

Trigger finger keeps your finger stuck in a bent position. The cords that attach muscle to bone, called tendons, are covered by a protective sheath. With trigger finger, that sheath becomes swollen, so the tendon cannot glide easily.5

Carpal tunnel syndrome develops when there is pressure on the median nerve. This nerve helps move your forearm, wrist, hands, and fingers. When the median nerve is compressed, tingling, numbness, and weakness can happen.6

How does diabetic neuropathy affect dexterity?

Researchers reviewed studies looking at hand dysfunction in T2D. They found that T2D affected hand strength and coordination, known as dexterity. A person's ability to grip and pinch was particularly affected.2

The review did not find a difference in dexterity in a person's dominant hand. You use your dominant hand to do things like write, comb your hair, or throw a ball. But the researchers did find less dexterity in the nondominant hand.2

Hand complications and self-care

Hand complications may affect your ability to carry out daily activities, including self-care. This can lead to social isolation, less independence, and financial problems. Your overall quality of life may decrease.2

Another study found that mild to moderate T2D did not affect someone's grip strength. But it did affect their dexterity and ability to control their grip. This could lead to problems with daily tasks that require manipulating objects. The risk of dropping handheld objects increased.7

Treatments for diabetic neuropathy

Treatments for diabetic neuropathy include physical therapy exercises to keep hands flexible and strong. Medicines such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) or corticosteroid shots can lessen pain and swelling. Some antidepressants and anti-seizure drugs may also relieve pain. Surgery is an option in some cases.8,9

Wrist splints can be helpful for carpal tunnel syndrome. Splints take the pressure off the median nerve. Strapping your finger to a plastic splint may help with trigger finger. The splint works by stopping your finger from moving.6,9

Continuous glucose monitors and insulin pumps

If you cannot check your blood sugar because of dexterity problems, there are tools to help. Continuous glucose monitors (CGMs) check your blood sugar through a device attached to the outside of your body. These devices have become more accurate and popular in recent years.10

For people who depend on insulin shots, insulin pumps may be an answer. These pumps are also attached to the outside of your body. They can deliver insulin continuously or as a surge dose close to mealtimes.10

There are even devices that combine a CGM and an insulin pump. These devices take information from the CGM and suggest changes to your insulin dose. They can also adjust the dose automatically.10

Check with your insurance company about what devices your policy covers.

If you have diabetic neuropathy, talk to your doctor. Together you can decide which treatments will help you lead a healthy and independent life.10

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