Tips for soothing morning stiffness from arthritis

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Tips for soothing morning stiffness from arthritis

The days of bounding out of bed as a kid moving with ease may be long gone.  Getting older has a way of changing that scenario.  At some point, most adults will find bounding out of bed first thing in the morning, has been replaced by more of a slow, controlled movement to prevent achy, stiff joints from feeling the effects of minimal movement through the night.

Feeling stiff when you first wake up in the morning is common among adults.  Many will attribute it to old age but that alone does not cause morning joint stiffness.  More likely it is usually an indication of worn joints, muscle tightness, or inflammation from arthritis.  Both osteoarthritis (the “wear and tear” kind), and rheumatoid arthritis or RA (which involves swelling and inflammation), can lead to triggering symptoms of morning stiffness.

Generally the episode of having morning stiffness lasts only about 10 to 15 minutes. Once you get up and start moving around, the stiffness goes away as the joints and muscles warm up.  But if the stiffness lasts an hour or more, this is characteristic of rheumatoid arthritis. 

The reason for joint stiffness and feeling achy is that as our joints age, the spongy cushion of cartilage begins to dry out and stiffen.  The joint lining also produces less synovial fluid which lubricates your joints.  Anyone with weak muscles and stiff tendons will also tend to tighten during sleep resulting in more rigid movements upon awakening.

Another theory for morning stiffness is the suspicion that there may not be sufficient cortisol being released in the body during the night to offset elevated pro-inflammatory cytokines like IL-6.  Cytokines are proteins produced by cells and serve as molecular messengers between cells.  In regard to arthritis, cytokines regulate various inflammatory responses.

Managing morning stiffness is important as how we feel when we first wake up sets the tone for the rest of the day.  If we wake up stiff and in pain, this causes frustration, the inability to work and your overall quality of life.  It may not be possible to completely reverse the effects of joint aging and while there are certain medications that can help manage arthritis pain and inflammation, stiffness can still occur. 

Here are some ways to help ease the pain and joint stiffness you feel helping you make your transition from bed to getting up a little easier:

·      Sleep in a position supporting your joints

·      Keep your bedroom warm.  Have the room at a comfortable temperature and using heating pads and electric blankets for extra warmth can keep joints from getting quite so stiff

·      Before getting out of bed, do simple stretching exercises in bed to limber up

·      Once you are up, do a few more exercises as your muscles begin to loosen up

·      Take a hot shower or bath in the morning. This gets blood flowing to stiff joints, loosening things up. 

·      Improvise a moist heat pad by tossing a washcloth into a freezer bag and microwave it for 1 minute.  Wrap it in a towel and leave it on the area for 15-20 minutes

·      Ice down an achy joint to help narrow blood vessels slowing down blood flow to the area and easing swelling.  Use a store-bought cold pack or use a bag of frozen vegetables.  Place on the area using a towel to protect skin.  Leave on no longer than 20 minutes

·      At night when you go to bed, leave any work or other issues occurring at the door to help reduce tension

·      Maintain a healthy body weight as excess weight places more of a strain on your joints

·      The use of joint health supplements, such as glucosamine or chondroitin, have not been found to help manage symptoms in the long term

·      If morning stiffness is caused by RA, doctors may treat it by prescribing DMARDS or disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs. 

·      During the day, move frequently to prevent joint stiffness.  Movement strengthens the muscles supporting joints, keeps bones strong, improves balance, and burns calories. 

Anyone who has the following symptoms should see their doctor right away:

·      Extreme pain

·      Injury

·      Joint that looks deformed

·      Unable to use a joint

·      Sudden swelling

·      Joints are tender or unable to move

·      Skin is red or warm to the touch

·      Having joint symptoms lasting more than 3 days or that happen several times a month