Background The relationship between diabetes mellitus (DM) and chronic musculoskeletal complaints (MSCs) is unclear. The aim of this study was to investigate the association between DM, non-fasting glucose and chronic MSCs defined as pain and/or stiffness ≥ 3 months during the past year in the general adult population. Methods The results were based on cross-sectional data from 64,785 men and women (aged ≥ 20 years) who participated in the Nord-Trøndelag Health Survey, which included 1,940 individuals with known DM. Associations were assessed using multiple logistic regression, estimating prevalence odds ratio (OR) with 95% confidence intervals (CIs). Results High non-fasting glucose was associated with a lower prevalence of chronic MSCs compared to a low glucose level. DM was associated with higher prevalence of chronic MSCs, in particular chronic widespread MSCs. In the multivariate analysis, adjusting for glucose level, BMI, age, gender and physical activity, chronic widespread MSCs was 1.6 times more likely (OR = 1.6, 95% CI 1.2–2.2) among individuals < 60 years of age with DM than among those without DM. The association between chronic widespread MSCs and DM was most evident among the group of individuals aged < 60 years with either type 2 DM or unclassified DM (OR = 1.8, 95% CI 1.3–2.5). Conclusion In this cross-sectional study a high non-fasting glucose was associated with lower prevalence of chronic MSCs. Among individuals with known DM chronic widespread MSCs were more likely.