In collaboration with Keck School of Medicine

Anti-Diabetic Drug May Help Those with Musculoskeletal Pain


Numerous studies have shown that the popularly-prescribed drug for type 2 diabetes, metformin, can help improve other conditions. In a recent study, researchers have found that it may also be beneficial for those who suffer from musculoskeletal pain. The study informs health professionals who care for those with type 2 diabetes, as well as suffer from various types of musculoskeletal pain.

Researchers set out to see if metformin had a pleiotropic effect, helping those with chronic musculoskeletal pain. They conducted a study that included nearly 22,000 who have type 2 diabetes and take metformin for it. The study is published in the February 2021 issue of the European Journal of Pain [1].

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The study participants self-reported their diabetes status, metformin usage, and any chronic musculoskeletal pain in their knee, hip, back, neck, or shoulder. As part of the self-report, they indicated if the pain had interfered with their daily activities within the last month and if it had been happening for at least three months, which would be chronic. While the research shows that type 2 diabetes patients who take metformin reported less back, neck, shoulder, and knee pain, they did not report less hip pain.

They found that those with type 2 diabetes who take metformin report having less chronic pain in their knees, back, neck, and shoulder. They also had less multisite musculoskeletal pain. This was more common in women than in men, but overall, fewer type 2 diabetes patients reported chronic musculoskeletal pain if they were taking metformin. It appears as though metformin may provide a protective effect when it comes to this type of chronic pain.

According to the World Health Organization, over 1.7 billion people worldwide have musculoskeletal disorders, including 568 million who have low back pain [2]. Such conditions are the leading contributor to disability worldwide, with low back pain being the single leading cause of disability in 160 countries.

Medical professionals who treat type 2 diabetes patients who also suffer from chronic pain may report a reduction in pain after taking metformin. The protective effect that metformin appears to have on musculoskeletal pain seems to be stronger for women. Still, the drug could play an essential role in helping to address multiple issues at one time. Healthcare professionals working with those with chronic pain and type 2 diabetes may want to keep this information in mind when putting together a treatment plan.

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  1. European Journal of Pain. The effect of the anti-diabetes drug metformin on musculoskeletal pain. February 2021.
  2. World Health Organization. Musculoskeletal conditions.

This article was originally published on Confronting Chronic Pain by Dr. Steven Richeimer, Director Pain Medicine Master and Certificate.

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