Whether it's waking up in the morning, getting off the couch or just trying to move around the day after a workout. Most of us are familiar with stiff joints that we need to stretch out or move slowly until they recover. But why do joints get stiff? Is it just age, or is there another cause?
Stiff joints due to arthritis
Arthritis is the most common cause of joint stiffness in the body. There are two main types that cause joint stiffness,
- Osteoarthritis(OA): This is caused by the wear and tear of the cartilage in your joints over time. Arthritis is often exacerbated by excessive use of the joints over time (like marathon runners, footballers etc) as well as carrying excess weight. Although it is more common as we get older, it often affects people as young as thirty.
- Rheumatoid arthritis (RA): RA is an autoimmune disease that leads to chronic inflammation of the joints, among other things. This causes pain, stiffness and swelling and can damage the cartilage and bones over time.
The symptoms of arthritis tend to be more severe in cold weather, after extended periods of staying still, and post-exercise.
While the condition is degenerative and cannot be cured, there are still ways to reduce the symptoms and slow the progression, these include:
Physiotherapy and stretches utilise the muscles surrounding the affected joint to relieve pain.
Bracing and supports relieve inflammation and swelling and in more severe cases, minimise joint contact by unloading it.
Regular exercise helps to remove excess fluid and keep the muscles flexible.
Stiff joints due to bursitis
In many of the joints in your body, there are tiny fluid-filled sacs known as bursae. These act as cushions to guide and soften movements.
When they become inflamed, they can cause irritation, pain and stiffness in the joints, making movement difficult. In particular, they affect the shoulders, hips and elbows. However, they can also affect the knees and ankles.
Recovering from bursitis mainly requires rest and reduced physical activity to allow the joint to heal. However, using supports and bracing as well as compression helps to speed this process up and allow for regular daily life.
Stiff joints due to muscle tightness
Our joints are surrounded by a network of muscles, the tendons being responsible for moving them properly.
When these tendons are overexerted or underused, they can become strained and tense, causing stiffness and tight feeling in the joint during movement.
This is fairly easy to rectify, and it’s best to slowly stretch out the muscle, massaging where needed. In more chronic cases, the use of a sports brace or support will help.
Regular exercise, stretching and activities like yoga and pilates can help to keep muscles limber and flexible.
Other health conditions causing stiff joints
There are some less common issues that can also cause stiffness in the joints, and if you find it’s chronic or especially painful, it’s important to speak to your doctor and get tested.
In particular, some of the possible culprits include
- Gout: This can cause sudden stiffness that is accompanied by pain and tenderness in the joint. Gout can be an intermittent disease that never goes away, but thankfully it can be managed with lifestyle changes and medication.
- Lupus: Lupus is an autoimmune disease that causes the body to attack itself. Among the range of symptoms, joint stiffness lists fairly high and often has swelling and pain as well.
If you find that the stiffness in your joints is persisting or getting worse, seek medical attention and work with your doctor to find the best treatment.
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