Stiffness the first time you wake up in the morning is a common problem associated with arthritis. Morning stiffness can cause pain all over your body when you wake up. When you take your first steps, your joints and muscles are so sore you want to crawl back into bed. In fact, morning stiffness can be the worst pain you experience throughout the day, and it can impair or interfere with your function and ability to perform everyday tasks and activities of daily living.
Paying attention to the duration of morning stiffness (how long it lasts) will help you and your healthcare provider decide how to deal with it. Morning stiffness lasting more than an hour—and in some cases up to several hours—is characteristic of rheumatoid arthritis or other inflammatory types of arthritis. Morning stiffness that is not prolonged (usually half an hour or less) is more likely to be an osteoarthritis or other non-inflammatory musculoskeletal disorder. Despite a regular treatment regimen, morning stiffness is an ongoing problem for many arthritis sufferers.
The cause of morning stiffness?
One theory for the cause of morning stiffness is called the gel phenomenon. The gel phenomenon essentially means stiffness that occurs after prolonged sitting or inactivity. This is characteristic of non-inflammatory diseases.
Some researchers point out that morning stiffness is a circadian symptom that is not yet fully understood. Some suspect that cortisol released in the body at night may not be sufficient to counteract elevated pro-inflammatory cytokines such as IL-6. But waking up in the middle of the night to take corticosteroids or other anti-inflammatory drugs to reduce inflammation can be inconvenient and not without side effects.
Tips for dealing with morning stiffness
A modified-release tablet of prednisone has actually been developed. Taken at about 10 pm, the tablet delivers a dose of prednisone to the body about 4 hours later, which is considered the best time to inhibit IL-6. Several clinical studies published in 2011 suggested that this is the best treatment for morning stiffness. The drug — known as Lodotra in Europe and approved before the U.S. — has performed well in studies. The FDA approved it in 2012 under the name Rayos.
If you have inflammatory arthritis, managing morning stiffness requires working with your healthcare provider to control inflammation. No matter what type of arthritis you have, the following tips may help:
- Sleep in a position that supports your joints.
- Make sure your bedroom or sleeping environment is warm. Set a comfortable temperature on the thermostat and use heating pads and electric blankets for extra warmth.
- Before getting up, do simple stretches in bed to soften your body.
- Wake up for the first time and take a hot shower. Standing under warm water will relax you.
- Once your muscles start to relax, do some more exercises.
- Easier said than done, but when you go to bed, let go of work, stress, or any problem. Make a conscious plan to get rid of stress to help reduce stress and allow your body to relax before going to sleep.
- If possible, postpone your event until later in the day. If you have a job, consider applying for a delayed start time.
Morning stiffness can affect your level of depression, your ability to work, and your overall quality of life. Consider it on a smaller scale. How do you feel when you wake up with a bad toothache? Imagine having the same discomfort all over your body. You’ll do anything to make it stop, right? You need to continue with your daily life. Imagine if this happened day in and day out.
Do everything you can to reduce morning stiffness. Try different things and see what works best for you. Discuss with your healthcare provider. Even a little effort (eg, staying warm, exercising, sleeping position) can go a long way. If morning stiffness is a big problem for you, you may want to consider changing your medication regimen.
Frequently Asked Questions
Why are my joints stiff in the morning?
Stiff joints after waking up in the morning may be due to osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, or aging joints. Osteoarthritis usually causes stiffness for less than half an hour, while rheumatoid arthritis can cause joints to be stiff for hours after waking up. Regular joint aging usually results in stiffness that lasts about 10 to 15 minutes.
How to prevent muscle stiffness in the morning?
Do some simple stretches before you wake up to relax your joints. These may help reduce morning muscle stiffness. However, the best way to prevent muscle stiffness is to find its cause. If muscle stiffness is caused by arthritis, a health professional can provide medications specifically designed to reduce joint inflammation and swelling.
Why do my shoulders hurt when I wake up in the morning?
There are many reasons for shoulder pain after waking up in the morning. Arthritis, osteoarthritis, shoulder impingement, rotator cuff injuries, or simply sleeping on your shoulders in an awkward position can all cause pain when you’re awake. The best way to treat this condition is to share your symptoms with a health professional who can diagnose and offer specific treatments.