Morning Joint Stiffness and the Science Behind it

December 18, 2023

stiff joints aren't always just a sign of aging

Waking up to a new day shouldn't be a painful experience, but as you get older, it's not uncommon to feel a bit stiff in your joints when you first wake up. This happens because lying down for a long sleep can reduce the fluid around your joints, making them feel more rigid initially in the morning.

But stiff joints aren't always just a sign of aging. Various conditions, such as arthritis, lupus, and bursitis, can contribute to this issue. Plus lifestyle factors, including your diet and how you manage your weight, play a significant role in maintaining joint health and mobility. Because arthritis is one of the most common causes of morning joint stiffness, let’s get a closer look at the role arthritis plays in the development of this condition.

Morning Stiffness in Arthritis

Morning stiffness is a familiar symptom for many people with different types of arthritis, including rheumatoid arthritis (RA), psoriatic arthritis (PsA), and osteoarthritis (OA). The duration and intensity of this stiffness can vary depending on the type of arthritis. For instance, those with RA may experience stiffness that lasts several hours, whereas in OA the joint pain will often resolve once you get moving around. OA is the most common type of arthritis and is also known as “wear and tear” or degenerative arthritis and is most commonly seen in people over 50. In OA, the layer of cartilage that protects your joints gradually wears away, and over time is no longer able to protect and cushion your joints.

Why Does Morning Stiffness Happen?

One of the reasons for morning stiffness is the so-called "gel phenomenon." This occurs when synovial fluid, which lubricates your joints.  This fluid thickens when you're inactive, making it harder to move. Once you start moving, the fluid loosens up, easing the stiffness.

Another factor can be fluctuations in cortisol, a hormone that helps control inflammation. Low levels of cortisol at night might leave your body less capable of managing inflammation, leading to increased stiffness in the morning.

The Impact of Obesity and Vitamin D Deficiency

Obesity can also play a role in arthritis-related stiffness. Excess weight puts more stress on your joints, potentially accelerating cartilage damage and increasing inflammation. A deficiency in vitamin D, crucial for bone and joint health, can also exacerbate joint pain and stiffness, especially in the morning.

Managing Morning Stiffness

There are several ways to manage morning stiffness effectively. Prescription anti-inflammatory agents are typically necessary to manage chronic conditions like RA. Although fast acting pain killers are sometimes necessary to control osteoarthritis pain, long term use of these medications comes with a host of side effects. Research has shown that taking a small molecule marine collagen powder, such as DeepMarine Collagen, can help to reduce both pain and joint stiffness related to osteoarthritis. Marine collagen peptides stimulate the collagen-producing cells located in your articular cartilage (the cartilage that covers the end of bones in a joint). This helps to make that cartilage stronger and more durable and improves joint function.

Simple lifestyle changes such as these can also help:

  • Using pillows or braces to support your joints while sleeping.
  • Staying warm with electric blankets or heating pads.
  • Starting your day with gentle stretching exercises in bed.
  • Taking a warm shower first thing in the morning to relax your muscles and joints.
  • Engaging in light exercise after loosening up.
  • Reducing stress before bedtime.
  • Scheduling activities later in the day, when stiffness tends to ease.

Finding your “sweet spot” consisting of a combination of treatments and adjustments might require some experimentation, but many people successfully manage their morning stiffness and improve their quality of life.  If you are coping with one of the various forms of arthritis, you’re almost certainly going to have to deal with morning joint stiffness.

But don’t be discouraged, as managing morning stiffness is quite possible, paving the way for more comfortable and active mornings. As always, please consult with your healthcare provider for personalized advice and treatment options tailored to your specific needs.

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