Joint Stiffness

Joint stiffness may be either the symptom of pain on moving a joint, the symptom of loss of range of motion or the physical sign of reduced range of motion. Doctors prefer the latter two uses but patients often use the first meaning.

Causes :

  • Joint injury
  • Joint strain
  • Joint sprain
  • Joint overuse
  • Prior joint injury
  • Normal aging
  • Tendonitis
  • Bursitis
  • Muscle spasms
  • Arthritis
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Inactivity
  • Certain muscle disorders
  • Certain neurological disorders
  • Rheumatic fever
  • Ankylosing spondylitis
  • Polymyositis
  • SLE
  • Polyarteritis nodosa
SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS :
Joint stiffness may be either the symptom of pain on moving a joint, the symptom of loss of range of motion or the physical sign of reduced range of motion. Doctors prefer the latter two uses but patients often use the first meaning.

1. Pain on Movement : Pain on Movement is commonly caused by Osteoarthritis, often in quite minor degrees, and other forms of arthritis. It may also be caused by injury or overuse and rarely by more complex causes of pain such as infection or neoplasm. The range of motion may be normal or limited by pain. "Morning Stiffness", pain which eases up after the joint has been used, is characteristic of Rheumatoid arthritis. 

2. Loss of motion (symptom): The patient notices that the joint (or many joints) do not move as far as they used to or need to. Loss of motion is a feature of more advanced stages of arthritis including Osteoarthritis, Rheumatoid arthritis and Ankylosing spondylitis. Loss of range of motion (sign): the examining medical professional notes that the range of motion of the joint is less than normal. Routine examination by an orthopaedic surgeon or rheumatologist will often pay particular attention to this. The range of motion may be measured and compared to the other side and to normal ranges. This sign is associated with the same causes as the symptom. In extreme cases when the joint does not move at all it is said to be ankylosedove at all it is said to be ankylosed.

Treating Joint Stiffness :
Pay attention to early signs and symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis, such as joint stiffness. Early, aggressive treatment can greatly limit joint damage. Your doctor will help you develop a plan for treatment, which may include medications and several types of therapy.

Medications. A variety of medications are used to treat rheumatoid arthritis. When given early enough, some interrupt the progression of the disease by reducing inflammation and preventing joint damage. Others help relieve symptoms of joint stiffness and pain. 

You may take a combination of medications, such as:

  • Disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs)
  • Biologic response modifiers (a category of DMARDs)
  • Glucocorticoids
  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs)
  • Analgesics
Physiotherapy :
A program of physical therapy and exercises can help improve mobility, reduce pain, and increase flexibility and strength. Heat -- delivered through hot packs, electric mittens,ultrasound, or spas, for example -- can help relieve joint stiffness and pain. Hydrotherapy involves exercising and relaxing in warm water. Cold works best for acutely inflamed joints. Relaxation techniques help release muscle tension, relieving stiffness and pain. An occupational or physical therapist can teach you how to use your body so you can reduce stresson your joints, for example, by using the strongest joint available to do a job. This is called good body mechanics.

Self-Care for Joint Stiffness and Pain
You can take other steps as well to help relieve joint stiffness and pain. For example, weight control reduces stress on joints. Exercise can also strengthen muscles and joints. Water aerobics is a good choice. It improves your range of motion without putting extra stress on joints.

To protect your joints, alternate between periods of rest and activity. But at least once a day, gently move your joints through their range of motion. If needed, use assistive devices to reduce joint stress and relieve pain.