As the weather starts to cool down, many people find their stiffness in the morning worsens. For osteoarthritis it may last for up to an hour or so. For others living with inflammatory arthritis however (such as rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, ankylosing spondylitis) it can last for hours or even all day during a flare.
Why are mornings so difficult?
Inflammation causes swelling and the swelling overnight in a joint that’s not moving causes the surrounding muscles and tissues to tighten up, which in turn causes pain and stiffness.
Another reason is that in inflammatory arthritis, the immune system attacks lining of the joint, which causes it to become inflamed and swell. During the night, while your joints are not moving, the inflammatory materials can cause joint fluid to collect in and around the joint, which increases the swelling even more, leading to the pain and stiffness you feel first thing in the morning.
What can you do to improve your experience of morning stiffness?
- Be sure that your sleep environment is warm – use a comfortable temperature on the thermostat and use heating pads and electric blankets for extra warmth
- Use heated gloves – microwavable heat pad mittens that will quickly warm up your hands
- Relax in a hot shower or bath – for 10 minutes or whatever works for you – this helps to loosen the muscles and relieve the pain. If time permits, you could also take a longer warm bath.
- Take your medication before you get out of bed – so that by the time you need to get up your medication has kicked in. Have a glass of water and snack on your bedside ready too. Also ask your doctor about switching your medication – perhaps there will be an alternative that is better for this issue.
- Do some gentle stretching in bed –a physio or exercise physiologist may assist you in devising a stretching routine that can be done in or on the bed when you wake up.
- Take a morning walk, do some yoga/tai chi or go for a gentle swim in a heated pool – this can help loosen the muscles and joints. Exercise in general is also important to keep strong and keep your joints mobile.
- Delay your activities until later in the day – if you work, talk to your employer about flexible work arrangements – can you start later or work from home for the first couple of hours?
- Warm up your clothes in the dryer – and enjoy the warmth over your body
- Rub on joint cream – this can ease inflammation and provide heat to the joints
- Be organised so that there is less to do in the morning – have some easy breakfast options on hand, do the kids lunches the night before, have your clothes laid out etc.
- Use ergonomic tools in the morning – those that decrease joint stress – jar openers, knives with special handles, rubber handles on keys etc
- Use an electric blanket to warm up your joints for a while before you need to get up
- Eat more of an anti-inflammatory diet – try the Mediterranean diet
- Ask for help – Mornings are busy enough even without stiff and painful joints. Ask for help from your partner, family or friends – a little help can go a long way!
Importantly, please check with your doctor or health practitioner before making any changes to your exercise or medications.
Sources & Further Reading
Medical News Today – How to manage morning stiffness with rheumatoid arthritis
Very Well – Causes of Morning Stiffness
Creaky Joints – 30 Tips and Tricks to Prevent Arthritis Morning Stiffness