Do your hips and knees feel stiff when you wake up in the morning? Do you struggle to stand up after watching a long movie? There are several reasons why prolonged inactivity may cause such symptoms.
One of the most common reason is arthritis. You may have osteoarthritis, which affects many older adults as the result of the joints experiencing years of ordinary wear and tear. If you’re younger, you may have rheumatoid arthritis or related conditions involving your immune system.
Duration can be a simple way to distinguish between the two. Stiffness related to osteoarthritis typically eases up in about 15 minutes or less while symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis tend to last much longer.
Whatever the cause, morning stiffness can usually be eliminated or reduced. Try these strategies for finding relief.
- See your doctor. Your doctor will perform blood tests and examine your joints to make a
diagnosis. They will also ask you about your medical history because genetics and injuries could increase your risk for arthritis.
- Consult a specialist. You may be referred to a rheumatologist. They are specialists in autoimmune conditions who can help you to develop a treatment plan.
- Take medication. There are
many over-the-counter and prescription drugs to help relieve arthritis pain. Depending on your diagnosis, anti-rheumatic drugs may also be an option.
- Get referred to physical therapy. Learning to move safely without damaging your joints can make you more comfortable and independent. A physical therapist will provide exercises to help you with daily activities. Some approaches that a physical therapist may use include therapeutic exercises, manual therapeutics that can include joint mobilization to regain joint motion, soft tissue mobilization to release muscle tightness that can hinder movement, or relieve muscle spasms. A physical therapist also has an arsenal of modalities for pain relief. This can be ultrasound, electrotherapeutic point stimulation, low-level laser or phototherapy, Kinesiotaping (or KT Taping), and much more. Consult with a therapist. You can always get a referral from your primary physician, rheumatologist, neurologist, or internist. Nowadays you can also get a referral from a Nurse practitioner or a physician assistant. Check with your insurance.
- Consider surgery. Most cases of arthritis can be managed without surgery. However, if your symptoms are severe, artificial joints are very effective at restoring mobility.
- Lose weight. Excess pounds strain your joints, as well as your heart. Lighten up with healthy eating
and regular exercise.
- Build strength. While it’s impossible
to replace the cartilage you lose with age, you can increase your muscle mass. Lift weights or do floor exercises that use your body weight for resistance. Strong muscles give your joints extra support.
- Increase flexibility. Safe stretching fights stiffness too by loosening tendons that naturally tighten when you sleep or sit still. Practice yoga or do leg and arm stretches while you watch TV.
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- Change your diet. There’s little evidence to support claims about expensive supplements and miracle foods that cure arthritis. On the other hand, a diet low in processed foods and rich in nutrients limits inflammation. Eat more fatty fish, nuts, green vegetables, and cherries.
- Sleep well. Adequate rest is essential for healing. Go to bed and wake up on a regular schedule.
Darken your bedroom and block out background noise with a fan or white noise machine.
- Manage stress. Chronic tension can aggravate arthritis and any mental or physical condition. Relax with gentle music, meditation, or a warm bath.
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- Apply heat. For pain relief without drugs, apply a warm compress to your sore hips or shoulders. Long-standing injuries usually respond
more successfully to heat while ice is recommended for the first couple of
days after a new event.
- Keep moving. Prevention is a sound strategy. As the saying goes, "An ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure!". When possible, take frequent breaks when you know you’ll be stuck in one place for a while. Shift your sleep position during the night and walk around while you’re on the phone.
Taking care of your joints will help you to sleep more restfully at night and move more comfortably in the morning and throughout the day. Maintain a healthy weight, avoid fatigue, and talk with your doctor if you need more assistance.