One of the most common complaints I hear from my older patients concerns morning stiffness. They get up in the morning and have to take a hot shower, move around for an hour or so, maybe even take a pain reliever with breakfast before they can “get going” for the day. They want to know why they have this stiffness and if there is anything they can do about it. Here’s what I tell them.
Morning Stiffness – Why Do I Have It?
Stiffness is a hallmark symptom of rheumatoid or osteoarthritis, rheumatism or fibromyalgia, which may go undiagnosed in some people. After these conditions are ruled out, stiffness may be due to a variety of other factors such as:
- Sleeping in a cold or damp environment. Leaving a window open all night with cool, damp air circulating over you can cause dramatic stiffness of the neck and back.
- Being sedentary. Lack of physical exercise on a daily basis can cause stiffness in muscles and joints.
- Being overweight. This usually accompanies a sedentary lifestyle. Extra pounds put a lot of strain on the weight bearing joints, muscles, tendons and ligaments of the hips, knees and ankles.
- Poor diet. High-refined carbohydrates (sugars) create toxic acids in the body that can settle in muscles and joints. It is also contributes to being overweight.
How Can I Prevent Morning Stiffness?
My patients are always pleased to know that there is something they can do to prevent being troubled by morning stiffness every day. Here are some things I recommend:
- Check your sleeping environment. Are there air leaks around the bedroom windows that are letting in cold and damp night air? If so, re-caulk around your windows. You may also need to turn up the thermostat a degree or two to keep your bedroom warmer.
- Watch your diet. Too much sugar in the diet contributes to inflammatory conditions like arthritis, fibromyalgia and rheumatism. It creates a highly acid pH in the blood which feeds inflammation in joints, muscles, tendons, ligaments. Lower your sugar intake to about 20 grams a day (read labels). This will help you lose some extra poundage if you’re overweight and help balance the pH of your blood to a more alkaline level.
- Change your routine. The old saying, “move it or lose it” is appropriate here. Being sedentary, with little to no exercise on a daily basis, is conducive to creating disease states like diabetes, arthritis, and even cancer. Exercise releases endorphins that make you feel good and is a natural mood booster.
- Change your lifestyle. Smoking and too much alcohol can contribute to morning stiffness by the build-up of toxins in the body that they create. Learn stress coping mechanisms to prevent stress induced muscle spasms/stiffness at night while sleeping.
- Lose weight. If you’re overweight, extra pounds cause stress on your hip/leg/foot joints and muscles. Combine a low sugar diet with daily aerobic exercise and not only will you lose weight you’ll start to lose that chronic stiffness.
- Take a hot shower/bath/stretch. Taking a hot shower, or hot bath with Epsom salts in it every morning is a good way to loosen up stiff muscles. Turn on some pumping music and do some stretching exercises for about 20 minutes.
- Drink water. Being dehydrated can greatly add to muscle and joint stiffness. Your joints are cradled by fluid that is mostly water. When you become “dry” so do your joints and muscles. You can be awakened during the night with foot and calf pain. Be sure to drink an optimal level of water per day.
- Take a good multivitamin supplement. Potassium, calcium and magnesium deficiencies can also contribute to muscle and joint stiffness, pain, spasms and cramps.
- Other beneficial supplements. Resveratrol is an antioxidant that helps fight inflammation that can cause stiffness. Omega-3 fatty acids (fish oil, flax seed oil) can help lubricate joints and keep them moving smoothly. Vitamin C helps build collagen that helps repairs tiny tears in muscles to prevent stiffness. Glucosamine/chondroitin can help build up joint structures.
- Get enough sleep. Muscle and joint pain/stiffness can also be brought on by lack of sleep. Your muscles and joints repair themselves during sleep time and so adequate sleep is crucial.
- Reduce stress. Muscles respond to stress by tensing and clenching. This can cause chronic stiffness and tightness especially around knee and hip joints.
- Check your shoes. Sometimes ill-fitting shoes without proper arch supports can cause your gait to be off thereby causing pain in calf muscles, lower back and even the neck resulting in chronic stiffness.
As I tell my patients, after we rule out conditions like rheumatism, rheumatoid or osteoarthritis, or fibromyalgia, there are several things they can do to relieve garden-variety morning stiffness such as those listed above. The key to staying flexible and limber without morning muscle or joint stiffness is to simply keep moving!
Mark Bromson, M.D.
Tips To Overcome Stiffness, http://www.losethebackpain.com/overcomingstiffness.html
Morning Stiffness, http://www.pathmed.com/faq/?p=610