Why Am I Stiff In The Morning
As we age, our joints lose their flexibility. They become more brittle and painful. As a result, they don’t move as well or as easily as they used to. It’s common knowledge that arthritis results from this loss of mobility, but what about stiffness? What does it mean that joints are stiff in the morning? Does it indicate an impending illness?
Stiffness can be a warning sign that something is wrong with your body, such as infection or inflammation, says Dr. Gary Olshansky, M.D., professor of medicine at Stanford University School of Medicine. He explains that joints aren’t designed to be immobile all day long. When you sit still, the blood flow through the arteries supplying your legs slows down, which reduces the oxygen supply needed by your muscles. Without enough oxygen, your leg muscles get fatigued, and they eventually tire out. If you continue sitting, your muscle fibers will waste away until they die. This process happens throughout your body, including your legs.
In contrast, while standing, your muscles have plenty of oxygen so they don’t waste away, and they remain strong. But if you stand for extended periods without moving around, your circulation becomes restricted. Your leg muscles receive no fresh oxygenated blood, and they begin to atrophy. Eventually, these muscles may not function properly any longer. This condition occurs in both the upper and lower extremities, and it affects people of every age group. People who spend most of their time on their feet also experience problems. A lack of movement leads to tight calves and hamstrings because they never stretch them. Then there are the hip flexors, whose shortened length makes walking uncomfortable.
Dr. Olshanksy explains that stiffness is caused by poor posture, prolonged sitting, limited range of motion, imbalance between opposing forces (such as pulling on one leg while pushing up with the other), and obesity. He recommends exercises to strengthen weak areas, particularly those affecting the hips, shoulders, neck and back. You should also try stretching regularly, especially before going to bed.
Your doctor can help determine why you’re experiencing stiffness. For example, he or she might check for swelling or redness in your joints. Also, ask whether you’ve experienced pain in your joints recently. This could point toward joint-related issues.
If your doctor suspects an underlying problem, he or she may order x-rays to rule out osteoarthritis. An easy way to do this is to take a picture of your spine while lying face up in bed. Next, lie face down in bed, then turn over onto your stomach. Now take another picture of your spine. If your vertebrae appear to be misaligned, your doctor may want to perform additional tests to figure out why.
People often wonder why this exercise helps relieve stiffness in some people but not others. According to Dr. Olshanksy, it depends on how much force the person applies during a particular activity. If someone pushes upward using his or her arms against gravity, it doesn’t require much strength. However, if someone tries to lift himself off the ground by bending his knees, the act requires greater force than simply pushing upward.
Read on to find out how the stiffness you wake up feeling can cause health concerns later in life.
You probably know that aging brings along a host of physical changes — a weaker immune system, slower reflexes and diminished coordination among them. But did you know that aging also increases the risk of falling? Although falls happen mostly to older adults, children and teens can fall too. Falls can lead to broken bones, head injuries and even death. To prevent falls, experts recommend doing activities slowly and carefully, wearing comfortable shoes and avoiding alcohol. [Source: CDC]
Walking Stiffness Is Associated With Hip Fracture Risk
It seems natural to assume that stiffness improves after exercising. After all, you’ll likely feel better once you start moving. Unfortunately, many medical conditions actually increase stiffness, making matters worse. One such condition is rheumatoid arthritis, a chronic disease that involves inflammation and destruction of tissues and joints. Rheumatoid arthritis affects approximately 1 million Americans, primarily women. Typically, the disease develops gradually, but early attacks occur infrequently. At first, symptoms include tenderness, warmth and swelling of affected joints. Over time, the joints become enlarged and deformed, and they develop sores. Many patients experience fatigue and fever. Other symptoms include headaches, nausea, shortness of breath, chest pains, eye disorders and skin rashes. Women are twice as likely as men to develop rheumatoid arthritis.
The disease is characterized by inflammation, which disrupts the production of healthy cells. Doctors typically diagnose rheumatoid arthritis based on signs and symptoms, laboratory findings and X-rays. Since 1987, however, they’ve had access to special testing methods known as autoantibodies. These antibodies identify proteins that attack normal cells. Autoantibodies show up in nearly 90 percent of people diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis.
Rheumatoid arthritis damages the lining of joints, resulting in inflamed tissue, bone erosion, scarring and bony growths. Unlike other types of arthritis, the joints involved tend to change shape rather than becoming firm. Inflammation causes pain and stiffness in the morning, and it worsens as the day goes on. Joint damage usually begins in small ways; for instance, a patient may notice a few tender points where the bones meet at certain angles. Later, large sections of bone break down, forming nodules and reducing the space available for joints.
According to Dr. Olshanksy, stiffness associated with rheumatoid arthritis often responds well to medications. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) decrease inflammation and reduce pain. Pain killers such as naproxen sodium hydrate, ibuprofen and diclofenac potassium can provide relief. Steroids, synthetic hormones, work to reduce inflammation and ease pain. However, long-term use of steroids can weaken the immune system and increase the risk of heart disease, diabetes and infections.
For more information on stiffness and related topics, please see the next page.
Stiffness refers to a sense of being unable to bend or move parts of the body normally with relative ease. It isn’t a specific disorder or disease, but instead a symptom of one. There are various reasons why people suffer from stiffness, including injury, deformity, disease and old age. Some examples of stiffness include:
Frozen shoulder – Constant stiffness prevents full range of motion in the shoulder.
Gout – Sudden onset of extreme stiffness in the afternoon following a period of inactivity.
Osteoarthritis – Widespread narrowing of spaces between joints due to breakdown of cartilage.
Reactive airways syndrome – Excessive coughing from asthma or bronchitis can trigger sudden bouts of stiffness
Arthritis – Generalized swelling of joints causes stiffness.
[Source: Mayo Clinic]
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