Joint stiffness is a very common problem that can affect any joint in the body, including your hips, knees, elbows, wrists, and hands.
All of us can feel a little stiff from time to time but if your symptoms are persistent or becoming more severe, you should talk to a doctor as there may be treatments available that can help.
Symptoms include pain when moving the joint, restricted motion and inflammation which may cause the joint to feel hot and swollen. The symptoms may be worse after you have been sitting or lying down and you may have problems walking, standing or moving your joints. In older people, worsening joint pain is often a sign of osteoarthritis. It may affect one joint or many.
Causes of stiff joints
There can be many different causes of joint stiffness. If several joints are affected it can be a sign of:
- Rheumatoid arthritis which is a chronic inflammatory disorder that causes the immune system to attack the lining of the joints. Most commonly, the wrists, hands and feet are affected.
- Osteoarthritis, which is caused by the degeneration of cartilage that cushions the joints and enables them to glide smoothly over each other.
- Gout, a form of crystal deposition arthritis that often affects the big toe first. It normally comes on suddenly and can spread to any joint. An acute attack of gout is often the result of a spike in levels of uric acid in the body. It may last a week to 10 days. Interval gout means there is on-going low level inflammation in the joint which may result in further acute attacks. If gout becomes chronic, attacks become more frequent and the pain may not go away between attacks. Joint damage may occur and there may be a loss of mobility.
- Polymyalgia rheumatic is an inflammatory joint disease that affects people over the age of 50. It can commonly affect the hips, neck, wrists and fingers.
- Fibromyalgia is a long-term condition that causes pain throughout the body, including the joints. Doctors don’t understand the exact cause but it is believed to be linked to chemicals in the brain that alter the way that pain messages are carried around the body. It may be triggered by a physically or emotionally stressful event such as the death of a loved one.
- Lupus, a chronic autoimmune disease, normally affects the wrists, knees and finger joints. Symptoms may range from mild to severe.
- Bursitis occurs when the fluid-filled sacs called bursae that cushion the joints become inflamed. Bursitis most commonly affects the elbow, hip and knee joints.
- Hypothyroidism is an underactive thyroid gland. It can cause a range of different symptoms including joint stiffness and weight gain.
- Bone cancer or metastatic cancer disease is rarely found to be the cause of joint stiffness and bony destruction.
Treatment of stiff joints
Treatment for joint stiffness will depend on what is causing the problem. This is why it is important to see your doctor and get an accurate diagnosis. There is a range of measures that can be effective in treating joint stiffness:
- A hot or cold compress used several times a day can help to reduce swelling and relieve pain.
- Anti-inflammatory medication and painkillers can provide relief, particularly if arthritis is the primary cause of joint stiffness.
- A physiotherapist can recommend exercises to reduce stiffness and increase mobility and flexibility.
- Corticosteroid injections may be used in some cases to relieve pain. Your doctor will advise you if they are suitable in your case.
- Weight loss may help to relieve symptoms if you are overweight or obese as this can put added pressure on your joints.
If you are diagnosed with rheumatoid or osteoarthritis, which are common causes of joint pain, there are several non-surgical and surgical treatment options that might be recommended, including:
- Corticosteroid injections into the joint to relieve pain.
- Injections of hyaluronic acid to lubricate the joint.
- Bone realignment to shift the body weight away from the worn part of the joint.
- Joint replacement surgery.
If you are experiencing joint stiffness, there is no need to suffer in silence. Talk to us about diagnosing your problem and identifying an effective treatment plan to help you to manage your symptoms.