By Dr Yash Gulati
Why do people have joint stiffness?
Joint stiffness refers to the sensation in joints and the difficulty in moving a joint, as well as the noticeable loss of motion in a joint. Joint stiffness is frequently linked to joint pain and swelling. Joint stiffness is a common symptom of arthritis and can be caused by a joint injury or disease. Joint damage, together with stiffness, can be followed by joint injury. Joint stiffness could even limit joint movement. Many people experience stiff joints immediately after waking up. A long period of lying down while sleeping causes a decrease in fluid intake. As a result, the joints may be harder to move in the morning. Joint stiffness can be mild, affecting your movement only briefly in the morning or after sitting for long periods of time. Stiffness can also be severe, impairing mobility. In some cases, joint stiffness is accompanied by pain and inflammation. This can make walking, standing, or carrying weight painful. Joint stiffness is caused by various factors, including improper sleeping posture, age factor, obesity or unhealthy diet. Some health conditions like osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, gout, bursitis, tendinitis and bone cancer could also be the major cause of joint stiffness and pain.
Does it increase with age?
Yes, joint stiffness might probably increase due to ageing. Because of a lifetime of use, older adults’ joints may be stiffer. A person’s scope of joint motion becomes more constrained over time. A person’s agility may also decrease. The cushion that protects the connection between a person’s bones and cartilage starts to wear down as well. This causes inflammation, which can progress to arthritis. Joint movements become stiffer and less flexible as we age because the synovial fluid inside the synovial joints reduces and the cartilage shrinks. Ligaments also shorten and lose flexibility, resulting joints to feel stiff. Collagen changes with age can also have an impact on joint health. Collagen is a type of connective tissue that can be found in cartilage, ligaments, tendons, bones, and skin. Collagen fibres keep skeletal system flexible, but after the age of 25, collagen levels in the body begin to decline. As a result of this, ligaments, tendons, bones, and cartilage may become less flexible and brittle over time.
Does lack of physical exercise aggravate it?
Strong muscles are required to support bones. Inactivity weakens the supporting muscles. Weak muscles place additional strain on joints. People already suffering from arthritis should definitely practice some daily exercises to keep muscles and tissues around bones healthy and strong. Although people may be reluctant to exercise due to pain and stiffness in joints, inactivity can exacerbate joint pain and stiffness. Exercise that is done correctly can improve health and fitness without causing joint pain. Exercise, when combined with a treatment regimen, can improve quality of joints.
Is the medical route or lifestyle changes a better way to check it?
The diagnosis of the underlying joint conditions will assist the doctor in determining the best way to alleviate stiffness and other associated symptoms. Mild or acute joint issues can be reduced with the use of hot or cold compress. Joint stiffness can also be relieved by over-the-counter medications. NSAIDs like aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen are the most commonly used joint pain medications. Steroids may be used to treat joint stiffness caused by inflammation and swelling but they can be harmful to people with other underlying diseases. It is also suggested to people to improve their physical as well as dietary habits to prevent joint issues. Incorporating easy day to day exercises always help people recover from joint stiffness at ease. Adding healthy foods like omega-3 fatty acids, fish oils, nuts and seeds, cruciferous vegetables, citrus fruits, olive oil, lentils and beans, garlic and root vegetables and whole grains to the diet makes body muscles and bones stronger.
Can it lead to serious problems?
Joint stiffness is usually the earliest sign of impending or early arthritis. This is also associated with advanced arthritis in the form of stiffness and pain. Early on in the disease, stiffness occurs in the morning and gets better as the day passes. Whereas stiffness associated with age-related arthritis lasts for lesser time and gets better with activity but morning stiffness associated with inflammatory arthritis like rheumatoid arthritis takes much longer to get better even in early disease. Of course, in late stage of age-related as well as inflammatory type of arthritis such as rheumetoid arthritis, stiffness can stay for much longer time and, in fact, there may be decreased movement of the joint because of arthritis. It is important to diagnose arthritis in early stages so that remedial measures can be taken in the form of anti-inflammatory drugs, physiotherapy, weight reduction or specific medicines for diseases like rheumatoid arthritis (DMARDs). If stiffness of the joint or joints especially morning stiffness, which is the earliest sign of impending arthritis, is ignored, then the problem can progress to serious form of arthritis needing intervention.
Dr Yash Gulati is senior consultant, orthopaedics, joint replacement & spine, Indraprastha Apollo Hospitals, New Delhi