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What Causes Morning Stiffness?

Morning stiffness often arises from prolonged inactivity during sleep, leading to joint fluid viscosity and muscle tightness. Factors like arthritis, aging, or strenuous exercise can exacerbate this sensation. Imagine your body as a machine that needs gentle warming up each day. Curious about how to ease into your mornings with more comfort? Let's explore some effective strategies together.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Morning stiffness is usually the result of inflammation in the joints and connective tissue like tendons and muscles. Some chronic diseases like arthritis have a link with morning stiffness, and it can also develop in association with physical activity or temporary injury. Getting up and moving around should help the stiffness disperse. If it is so severe that a patient stays in bed or takes hours to get fully moving in the morning, the patient should discuss the situation with a doctor, as there may be a more serious underlying problem.

The biomechanics of morning stiffness are a topic of study, and researchers are not precisely certain about how it develops. The most likely hypothesis is that when patients are asleep and thus not very active, lymph leaks from their blood vessels, especially around inflamed areas where the tissue is already swollen. The excess fluid makes the tissue swell more, making it difficult to move until the patient wakes up and starts gently moving the limb, restoring circulation and allowing the extra fluid to dissipate.

Arthritis commonly causes morning stiffness.
Arthritis commonly causes morning stiffness.

Patients with connective tissue disorders, joint conditions, and diseases like lupus and fibromyalgia often experience morning stiffness as part of their symptoms. It can wax and wane. Patients may notice more stiffness in humid weather, cold times of the year, or after exercising too hard. Patients on medication who are responding well to their drugs usually have less stiffness, and a sudden spike can indicate that drugs are not working as effectively.

Patients with conditions such as lupus and fibromyalgia often experience morning stiffness.
Patients with conditions such as lupus and fibromyalgia often experience morning stiffness.

As people age, morning stiffness becomes increasingly common, even in active older adults. The connective tissue in the body tends to become weaker with time and this also appears to play a role in limited mobility. Exercises tailored to older adults to help build and retain muscle strength can be helpful. It can also be advisable to have a heater on a timer to warm up rooms in the early morning.

Morning stretching is a good way to start the day.
Morning stretching is a good way to start the day.

There are some techniques people can use for managing morning stiffness. Gentle exercise can promote healthier circulation and may help patients avoid stiffness in the mornings. Getting appropriate nutrition is also helpful. Some patients may find it useful to use heating pads on their beds, and it can be useful to apply heat in the morning to loosen the joints and muscles before getting up. A doctor may be able to recommend some stretches patients can use when they are stiff in the morning.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a TheHealthBoard researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Learn more...
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a TheHealthBoard researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Learn more...

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Discussion Comments

anon984957

I use a golf ball muscle massager to roll out each morning which really helps my body into the day. It really does help. I also drink a scoop of biosteel which can help wake me up instead of coffee. Anybody else have any other ideas?

literally45

I experience stiff hands in the morning but when I take nap during the day, I still wake up with stiff hands. Why?

burcinc

This is just my theory but I think the other possible reason of stiffness at night time and in the morning is because of calcium deposits.

I read about calcium deposits in people with arthritis. They form around the joints and if the individual is not active, they harden and cause joint stiffness. Since we are least active at night, this is when they harden the most. With movement during the day, the deposits break or loosen and the stiffness disappears.

stoneMason

This is so far the best explanation I've heard of morning stiffness, actually it's the only explanation I've heard. I asked my doctor about it a few weeks ago and she couldn't answer me.

I have a herniated disc in my lower back. Even though I have no stiffness or pain when I go to bed, I always wake up with my back stiff and painful.

I go for a walk every morning because this is the only way to get through the stiffness. By evening, it's like I don't have a hernia at all. My back feels great.

I go through this every single day, now it makes more sense.

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    • Arthritis commonly causes morning stiffness.
      By: perfectmatch
      Arthritis commonly causes morning stiffness.
    • Patients with conditions such as lupus and fibromyalgia often experience morning stiffness.
      By: vadymvdrobot
      Patients with conditions such as lupus and fibromyalgia often experience morning stiffness.
    • Morning stretching is a good way to start the day.
      By: berc
      Morning stretching is a good way to start the day.
    • Going for a morning job can help with stiffness.
      By: Dusan Kostic
      Going for a morning job can help with stiffness.
    • Practicing yoga may help alleviate morning stiffness.
      By: magann
      Practicing yoga may help alleviate morning stiffness.
    • Applying a heat pad in the morning can help to loosen joints and muscles.
      By: Gina Sanders
      Applying a heat pad in the morning can help to loosen joints and muscles.