It is easy to blame ageing when you wake up feeling stiff and achy. After all, years of use can take a toll on joints, muscles, and bones.
As we age, the cartilage that cushions your joints will dry and wear out. Furthermore, there is less production of synovial fluid, the thick liquid between your joints that acts as lubrication. This causes even more stiffness and soreness.
While these may be the cause of discomfort, they are not the only reasons why your joints are stiff and painful in the morning.
You are more likely to experience joint pain and stiffness if you:
- Have had previous joint injuries
- Repeatedly muscle use and/or overuse
- Suffer from depression, anxiety, and/or stress
- Are overweight
- Suffer from poor health
- Have poor sleeping habits
While all these are contributing factors to stiffness and joint pain in the morning, they often subside after a person gets up and moves around.
The difference between mild and severe however, is in the duration of the pain.
So, if the stiffness and pain continue throughout the day, it might be a sign of an underlying medical condition.
5 potential causes of stiff joints and soreness
1. Rheumatoid arthritis (RA)
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a long-term autoimmune disorder that primarily affects joints. RA typically appears in adults between the ages of 30 and 60.
RA is an autoimmune disorder that causes the immune system to attack otherwise healthy joints. People with RA will experience pain and swelling as the body attacks the joints.
There is no cure for RA but it can be controlled, hence early detection is crucial to slow down the progression of the disease.
2. Osteoarthritis (OA)
Osteoarthritis is another common form of arthritis. This degenerative joint disease frequently affects people over the age of 65 due to the wear-and-tear of joints. However, early onset of OA can happen to adults of any age.
The most commonly affected areas of the body are:
Symptoms of OA include pain, tenderness, stiffness and inflammation of the joints when the cartilage or cushion between them breaks down. Treatments usually center around pain management through weight management and exercise. Some people with particularly painful and debilitating symptoms may require joint replacement surgery.
The main difference between morning stiffness in people with OA and those with inflammatory arthritis such as RA is the duration of the pain. With OA, the pain lasts throughout the day unlike RA, which reduces as the day progresses.
Lupus is also an autoimmune disease where the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks healthy tissues and organs, such as muscles and joints. Common symptoms include a rash on the cheeks and nose, which is called a “ butterfly rash “, joint pain, severe fatigue, joint swelling and hair loss.
Lupus is often difficult to diagnose because many of the symptoms are similar to other medical conditions. Lupus is a chronic disease with no cure and can range from mild to severe. Early treatment can help to keep symptoms under control.
Bursitis develops when tiny, fluid-filled sacs in the joints called bursae become inflamed. The inflammation causes pain as well as stiffness.
Bursitis can happen in nearly any joint, but it is most common in larger joints, such as:
Bursitis generally gets better on its own. Conservative measures, such as rest, ice and taking a pain reliever, can relieve discomfort. If these measures do not work, seek medical advice.
Gout (commonly known as Rich Man’s Disease or Disease of the Kings) affects men more than women. Gout is caused by excess uric acid in the bloodstream. It mostly affects the joint in the base of the big toe but other joints and areas can also be affected.
- severe pain
- severe tenderness in a joint
- stiff joints
- swelling and joint that feels warm to the touch
Gout symptoms typically comes and goes throughout lifetime, therefore long-term management to prevent a gout attack is necessary.
Initial treatment can be nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) taken orally to relieve the pain and swelling. Long-term aim is lowering the levels of uric acid in the blood through dietary changes and long-term therapy.
Joint pain is rarely an emergency. It may go away after a few weeks (acute), or last for several weeks or months (chronic).
When treating acute cases at home, try these tips:
- Try an over-the-counter pain medications.
- Avoid using your joint/s in ways that cause or worsen pain.
- Apply ice to your painful joint/s for 15 to 20 minutes a few times each day.
- Apply a heating pad, soak in a warm tub or take a warm shower to relax muscles and increase circulation.
Whatever the cause of your morning stiffness, you can effectively reduce the symptoms with a balanced diet, lifestyle changes such as losing weight or reducing stress, and some low-impact exercises such as yoga or tai chi.
When should you see a doctor?
If you’re experiencing joint pain along with intense and sudden swelling, redness, the inability to use the joint or tenderness and warmth around the joint, it is advisable to seek medical advice from a rheumatologist.
Be prepared to answer your doctor’s questions about previous joint injuries, family history of arthritis, and the type of pain experienced.
Early treatment will relieve pain, and help you maintain healthy, functioning joints and a good quality of life. Find a rheumatologist closest to you here.