Is it painful getting out of bed in the morning? Do your stiff joints take a while to loosen up? Are your knees stiff and sore after sitting for a long time?
These are all good questions.
For many of us, it just seems like a part of growing older. But that’s not always the case.
According to the National Fibromyalgia & Chronic Pain Association (NFMCPA), morning stiffness can result from lack of physical activity, being overweight, not sleeping properly, or living somewhere that is cold, damp or both.
“Morning stiffness should not necessarily be credited to ‘normal aging,’ as it could be a symptom of treatable conditions that become more prevalent as we get older,” Dr. Mark S. Lachs, M.,D., M.P.H. told the New York Times.
Lachs is a professor of Medicine and Co-Chief of the Division of Geriatrics and Gerontology at Weill Medical College, as well as the director of Cornell's Center for Aging Research and Clinical Care and Director of Geriatrics for the New York-Presbyterian Health System.
However, age can play a role. One reason for stiffness has do to with joint cartilage and a reduction of lubricating joint fluid in conditions like arthritis. When we’re sitting or sleeping, joint fluid is less evenly distributed in the joint space, according to the New York Times.
While we’re resting, joint fluid is soaked up by the joint’s cartilage like a sponge soaks up liquid. When the joint is active, the cartilage is squeezed and the joint fluid coats the joint explained, HealthCentral. The more active the joint, the more that fluid lubricates the joint.
Normally this happens quickly and efficiently. However, when arthritis is present, there is less cartilage, which may also be in poorer condition, and less joint fluid. So the above process of lubricating the joint with the cartilage’s stored fluid is less efficient and less effective.
Imagine oiling a rusty door hinge and then opening and closing it until it stops squeaking.
When we start moving, the cartilage on the joints initially rubs against each other without enough lubrication. As we continue moving, lubrication improves, and everything moves with less friction.
Stiffness is a typical arthritis symptom, particularly upon waking in the morning, or after sitting for a long time. Stiffness that lasts more than an hour is good reason to suspect some form of arthritis, the Arthritis Foundation said.
Osteoarthritis usually is due to wear and tear, injury or both. Morning stiffness may be severe but brief — around 30 minutes. Once you’re moving around, the joints loosen up.
In rheumatoid arthritis, the immune system attacks the joint lining, which becomes inflamed and leads to the stiffness, pain and swelling around the joint. The stiffness with RA can last for hours and affect any joint. It’s usually worst in the morning, stated the Arthritis Foundation.
There are many reasons for joint pain and stiffness. If you want to know what's causing yours, see your doctor for an accurate diagnosis.
Reviewed August 12, 2016
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith
Chu, Robert, PhD. "10 Tips to Overcome Morning Stiffness." 10 Tips to Overcome Morning Stiffness. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 Aug. 2016.
Cooper, Grant. "Why Your Joints Are Stiff or Painful in the Morning." HealthCentral. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 Aug. 2016.
Freeman, Greg. "Inflammation and Stiffness: The Hallmarks of Arthritis." Arthritis Swelling & Stiffness. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 Aug. 2016.
Ray, C. Claiborne. "Still, Then Stiff." The New York Times. The New York Times, 2009. Web. 05 Aug. 2016.