How to Avoid Stiff Joints in the Morning
Arthritis is a leading cause of disability worldwide. The Arthritis Foundation estimates that more than 90 million people live with arthritis in the US. A common complaint among people with osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, and ankylosing spondylitis is morning stiffness.
Arthritis-related morning joint stiffness is typically present in the small joints, such as the wrists, fingers, and toes, but it can also be present in larger joints in the upper body and lower body, such as the neck, shoulders, elbows, and knees. Morning pain and stiffness can make it difficult to get out of bed, and sore joints can make your morning routine challenging.
In this article, we’ll talk about some ways to manage morning stiffness. We’ll discuss both lifestyle changes and medications that can help relieve morning stiffness.
Natural ways to ease morning stiffness
Start slow and gentle in the morning
When you first get out of bed in the morning, slowly move any stiff joints by doing light exercise. Be careful to avoid any jerking motions. Try a gentle exercise involving flexion and extension movements (bending) to relax and loosen any achy joints.
One of the best ways to loosen stiff joints in the morning is to perform gentle targeted stretches of painful joints. Before you start your daily activities, perform range of motion exercises to stretch each joint with arthritis pain. Hold the stretch for 20-30 seconds and repeat 2-3 times, taking care not to overstretch. A guided yoga or Tai-Chi class is worth considering as well.
Use heat therapy
A heating pad, heated blanket, warm bath, or hot shower in the morning can help relieve morning symptoms. The heat causes blood to flow to the skin surface, warming and relaxing the joints along the way. Therefore, the application of heat can help prevent joint stiffness and impaired morning function and increase mobility.
Keep morning medications within reach
Many people find that taking an over-the-counter or prescribed medication for OA or RA symptoms first thing in the morning can help prevent morning joint stiffness and joint pain. Keep your medicines, a glass of water, and a couple of crackers on your nightstand so you can take the medicines as soon as you wake up.
Consult a physical therapist or occupational therapist
A physical therapist or occupational therapist can show you specific exercises to prevent morning stiffness in affected joints, such as exercises to relieve shoulder pain from arthritis. They can also provide devices, such as a splint, to keep your fingers in a relaxed resting position overnight.
Eat a nutritious breakfast
A light and healthy breakfast can give your body the energy it needs to get moving in the morning. The goal should be to eat healthy throughout the day with plenty of fresh foods and limited amounts of processed foods. Additionally, a healthy diet can help you lose weight, reducing stress on your joints.
Consider consulting with a licensed dietician about including anti-inflammatory foods in your diet. An anti-inflammatory diet can help reduce inflammation and joint pain and make it easier to manage morning stiffness.
Include light exercise in your daily routine
An arthritis flare can make it difficult to get out of bed, let alone do any exercise. However, inactivity can make joints stiff. It is important to do some gentle exercise every day to prevent weak muscles, stiff tendons, and stiff joints. Your aim should be to keep moving throughout the day.
Assess your mattress
The right mattress can help relieve joint pain and morning stiffness and the wrong one can make it worse. Make sure your mattress provides cushioning and support and keeps your spine in a neutral position while you’re in bed.
Medications to treat morning joint stiffness
If lifestyle remedies and over-the-counter medications for joint pain and morning stiffness are not working, it’s important to have your osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis medically reviewed by an expert in joint health and obtain professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.
A healthcare professional can prescribe the right medication to reduce morning stiffness and joint pain from chronic inflammation. Some of the medications used to fight inflammation in arthritis patients include:
- Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen (Advil, Motril) and naproxen (Aleve, Naprosyn). These are available over the counter as well as in prescription strengths.
- Topical skin creams and ointments. When rubbed on the affected joints, they help prevent the transmission of pain signals from the joint.
- Disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) like methotrexate (Trexall), sulfasalazine (Azulfidine), leflunomide (Arava), and hydroxychloroquine (Plaquenil).
- Steroids to treat arthritis flares.
Some wellness professionals recommend essential oils, herbs, and supplements to treat arthritis pain and morning stiffness. These include evening primrose oil, valerian, fish oil, black currant oil, borage, and others. However, there is no strong scientific evidence that these herbs are effective. Before starting a supplement or herbal remedy for joint stiffness, always consult a healthcare professional.