Can Nerve Pain Be a Symptom of Diabetes?

Diabetes isn't the only problem that can develop as a result of high blood sugar. Over time, excessive amounts of glucose (sugar) and fats in your blood can lead to many complications, including painful nerve damage.

Nerve pain that comes along with a diagnosis of diabetes is referred to as diabetic neuropathy. Many types of neuropathy exist, but this particular variety results from uncontrolled diabetes. It can cause pain, numbness, and burning or tingling sensations.

In this article, you will learn about other possible causes of neuropathy and what you can do to prevent and treat diabetic neuropathy.

Human nerve pain, artwork
Human nerve pain, artwork. Getty Images/SEBASTIAN KAULITZKI/Science Photo Library

What Is Nerve Pain?

Nerve pain, or neuropathic pain, is caused from damage to a nerve. Neuropathy (nerve damage) can result from injuries, infections, or various conditions. When diabetes is the cause, neuropathy develops from high blood sugar over long periods of time.

Injuries or Infection

Several types of injuries can lead to physical damage to your nerves or nervous system.

Some injuries that could result in nerve pain include:

  • Motor vehicle accidents
  • Sports injuries
  • Surgeries or medical procedures
  • Crush injuries (injuries from force or pressure on a body part)

Several infections can cause peripheral nerve damage, such as:

Circulatory and Vascular Diseases

Blood vessels supply your body—including all your nerves and tissues—with the nutrients and oxygen they need to function. Numerous symptoms can appear when there is a disruption in this supply chain.

People with diabetes are at a heightened risk of developing vascular and circulation problems, as well as a narrowing of the blood vessels from high blood pressure or cholesterol. All of these can contribute to diabetic nerve pain.

Autoimmune Diseases

Inflammation is common in people with autoimmune diseases and diabetes, and this inflammation is often to blame for tissue damage and other conditions. Autoimmune diseases can also cause the body to attack its own tissues, including nerve fibers.

Some autoimmune diseases that may increase your risk of developing diabetic nerve pain include:

Metabolic Diseases

Your metabolic system dictates how your body produces and uses energy. Diabetes can impact your metabolism and related systems, causing a number of issues.

Nerve pain can develop as a result of metabolic diseases, including:

Treatments and Medication

Some medications or medical treatments, like chemotherapy and radiation therapy for cancer, carry a high risk of nerve damage that can lead to nerve pain—even years after treatment has ended.

Is Nerve Pain a Symptom of Diabetes?

Nerve pain isn't a direct symptom of diabetes; it's a complication of uncontrolled blood sugar. Over time, high blood sugar and fats in your blood from diabetes cause nerve pain. Up to 50% of people with diabetes develop some form of neuropathy.

People who have diabetes alongside the following conditions are most likely to develop diabetic nerve pain:

Careful management of your blood sugar levels and reducing risk factors can help minimize your chances of developing diabetic nerve pain.

Treatments and Management of Nerve Pain

Most people who develop diabetic neuropathy only experience mild numbness. While this numbness can be uncomfortable and sometimes alarming, most people with diabetic nerve pain have enough sensation to help avoid serious injuries.

Maintaining healthy blood sugar levels is the first step in treating nerve pain from diabetes. Around one year after improving your overall diabetes management, it's possible to see some improvement in nerve pain.

If getting your blood sugar under control doesn't bring you any relief, your healthcare provider may offer you prescription medications to help reduce neuropathic pain and improve your overall quality of life:

These medications have been shown to reduce symptoms by 30% to 50% in some people.

Nonpharmaceutical treatments that may help reduce pain from peripheral neuropathy include:

  • Physical therapy
  • Electric or magnetic stimulation
  • Exercise
  • Pain-relieving topical creams, such as capsaicin cream

When to See Your Healthcare Provider

In some cases, nerve pain from diabetes can become more severe—especially if the nerve damage impacts the health of other important body systems. Some conditions that could develop alongside diabetic nerve pain or as a later complication include:

Talk to your healthcare provider if you develop symptoms beyond your usual nerve pain.

Summary

While nerve pain occurs from injuries, infections, and many conditions, it can also be a symptom of diabetes. People with uncontrolled diabetes are at risk for developing all sorts of complications, including diabetic nerve pain, or diabetic neuropathy. If you have diabetes, talk to your healthcare provider about what you can do to avoid this and other complications related to your disease.

A Word From Verywell

Diabetes can put you at risk for diabetic nerve pain, which may cause numbness and tingling—especially in your hands and feet. Managing your diabetes by controlling your blood sugar levels can help prevent this complication from developing. If you develop nerve pain with diabetes, talk to your healthcare provider about managing your glucose levels and reducing your risk of other serious complications.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What does diabetic nerve pain feel like?

    Nerve pain is usually described as numbness or tingling, like pins and needles, or a burning or stinging sensation.

  • How can you treat diabetic nerve pain?

    There are several medications, including those developed to treat nerve damage and/or pain, that may improve your diabetic nerve pain.

  • Does diabetic nerve pain ever go away?

    While nerve pain may improve with changes like better management of blood sugar levels, it's unlikely to disappear completely once you develop neuropathy. Some medications and therapies may also help relieve nerve pain.

4 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. National Institutes of Health. Peripheral neuropathy fact sheet.

  2. National Institutes of Health. What is diabetic neuropathy?

  3. Bodman MA, Varacallo M. Peripheral diabetic neuropathy. In: StatPearls. StatPearls Publishing; 2022.

  4. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. Effectiveness of treatments for diabetic peripheral neuropathy.

By Rachael Zimlich, BSN, RN
 Rachael is a freelance healthcare writer and critical care nurse based near Cleveland, Ohio.