Why are my joints stiff?
The joints are situated where the ends of two bones meet and are held together by ligaments, a band of flexible fibres that run between the bones to prevent them from separating. Unfortunately stiffness in the joints is a common occurrence, though the reasons for a flare up will vary from person to person.
- Age – no matter how healthy you are, eventually over time general wear and tear takes its toll and the joints begin to stiffen
- Injury – this may cause you to hold yourself awkwardly to spare the painful area and as a result stiffness can arise
- Posture – being hunched over your desk or the steering wheel for long periods at a time can cause stiffness
- Rheumatoid arthritis – here the immune system attacks its own cells. This causes the joint tissue to break down thus resulting in stiffness and pain
- Your work – demanding manual labour puts strain on the joints however, don’t forget that over time repetitive movements such as typing can also cause wear and tear and damage
Finding the cause of the stiffness in your joints is key to tackling the problem effectively so if you’re unsure what the issue is, I’d recommend you visit your doctor. In the meantime though, here are a few simple steps you can take to ease stiff joints.
Use your diet to feed healthy joints
Diet is extremely important for maintaining the health of your muscles and joints. There are, for example, certain foods that can trigger the body’s inflammatory response which will only worsen any stiffness or pain. This includes processed foods, fried foods and red meat, as well as drinks like alcohol and caffeine.
Equally though, there are plenty of foods that are rich in vitamins and minerals which may actually help to reduce stiffness. Vitamin D for example, supports general muscle and bone health whilst omega 3, which is found in oily fish such as sardines, herring and salmon, has a positive effect on inflammation.
Maintain a healthy weight
Carrying extra weight puts strain on the knee, hip and ankle joints and so this can contribute to stiffness and pain in these areas. Also, if you suffer from a condition such as rheumatoid arthritis then being overweight can make the situation worse.1
Losing weight and maintaining a healthy weight isn’t always a straightforward task so I’d recommend you begin this process with a little bit of support. The NHS website provides a free 12 week diet and exercise plan to help people lose weight which would be a good place to start however, your GP will also be able to offer some advice on the matter.
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If you are experiencing stiff joints, whether it’s injury-related or otherwise, Atrogel Arnica Gel could help. This is made from extracts of freshly harvested arnica which is more effective than the dried variety. This flower has anti-inflammatory properties which not only relieves stiffness, but also helps to reduce bruising, swelling, sprains and muscle ache.
Need more convincing? In a study of more than 200 people with osteoarthritic pain in the fingers, Arnica Gel was shown to be as effective as Ibuprofen gel, with patients generally preferring Arnica Gel to the synthetic gel. The number of painful joints was reduced and morning stiffness improved too.2
Try gentle exercises
Stiffness tends to worsen when we spend long periods of time in the same position, be it sitting at your desk typing or standing on a shop floor serving customers. Therefore, the best way to combat this is to get moving. Be careful though, any high impact sport puts strain on the muscle and joints which may make the problem worse. So, instead of signing up for a Tough Mudder or a triathlon any time soon I’d recommend you try something that’s a little gentler on the body.
Swimming and walking are both good options as these help to increase strength and flexibility in the joints, as well as in the muscles that surround them. Also, physical activity encourages the circulation of synovial fluid, a lubricating liquid which bathes the joints thus allowing it to move smoothly and thereby reducing stiffness.
I realise that if your joints are stiff it isn’t always easy to exercise but if this is the case you could try stretching instead. This is a great way to loosen up and you only have to do stretches that fit within your capabilities.
We have a range of exercise videos that focus on stretching for flexibility, endurance, strength and balance so if you need a bit of guidance on how to stretch safely I’d recommend you have a look at these.
As we’ve just spent hours in the same position, stiffness is usually at its worst first thing in the morning so I’d recommend you could out some of these stretches as soon as you get up in the morning. Alternatively, spread them throughout your day – have you been slumped at your desk for hours on end? Well, get up and get moving!
The bones at the joint are covered in cartilage which acts as a cushion to stop the bones from rubbing. This cartilage is almost 60% water so to keep it working efficiently it really pays to stay hydrated – not drinking enough water risks worsening any pain and stiffness in the joints.
Whilst you load up on water (1.5-2 litres a day should do it) it’s also important to avoid alcohol and caffeinated drinks like tea, coffee and fizzy juice. These can have inflammatory effects and may even deplete your stores of essential vitamins and minerals.
A great alternative to these kinds of drinks is nettle tea which, although it may be more well-known for its nasty sting, actually has anti-inflammatory effects. Our friends over at Jan de Vries stock a few varieties of nettle tea but a particular favourite of mine is Heath and Heathers Nettle Tea which is made solely from organically grown nettles.
Consider your sleeping position
The average person spends 26 years of their life sleeping so it is really important to think about your sleeping position.3 After all, that’s a lot of time in bed and if you’re not sleeping comfortably it could contribute to stiffness in the joints.
Our Sleep Advisor Marianna has recently written a blog which investigates the perfect sleeping position. Therefore, whether it’s your back, neck or shoulders that are suffering, this piece will help you get more comfortable at night!
Sit up straight!
From sitting at a desk that isn’t the right height for you to carrying heavy bags, your joints are likely to suffer as you go about your daily routine. These kind of things can contribute to pain and stiffness so what can you do about it?
Well, for those of you who work long hours at a desk I’d recommend you speak to you employer about getting your workspace set up correctly. A foot rest, a vertical mouse and a computer stand that keeps your head up can all help to improve posture. Also, we spend a lot of time in our cars so it is worth reconsidering your driving position too. Do you need to adjust your car seat or head rest to better support your spine? Try out a few arrangements and see if you feel a difference.
Finally, if you have a hobby such as reading or drawing that keeps you hunched over for long periods at a time then give yourself the opportunity to move around every 20 minutes or so. This should loosen up your muscles and joints to make you feel more comfortable!
2 Widrig R et al. Rheumatol Int 2007; 27: 585-591