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How To Stop Stiff Joints From Arthritis

Updated on December 4, 2012

What Makes Joints Stiff?

Stiffness In the morning is a very common occurrence for arthritis sufferers. However, stiff joints can be caused by a wide variety of problems and can be a cause of acute discomfort.

The reason joints become stiff is that the lining of the joint – called the synovium – becomes inflamed. This is very common in arthritis sufferers, but can also be caused by something as trivial as using the joint too much, right up to very serious complaints such as cancer. The degeneration of the cartilage in a joint with arthritis promotes the growth of bone spurs and this is the source of the joint pain and stiffness.

Typically, joint stiffness from arthritis occurs after a prolonged spell of inactivity, such as sleeping, and is characterized by loss or decreased movement in the joint, discomfort and pain. This can last for as long as 30 minutes for a patient suffering from osteoarthritis and 45 minutes for a patient who has rheumatoid arthritis or lupus. Apart from being a source of pain and discomfort, these bouts of joint stiffness can be a psychological burden.

Let’s take a look at some of the different ways people attempt to slow the progression of arthritis and reduce joint pain.

What Makes Joints Stop Being Stiff?

There are several ways to tackle that early morning stiffness in the joints and these include using hot or cold compresses (and sometimes both together), good, old-fashioned exercise, medicines and alternative treatments such as dietary supplements.

1. Hot and cold treatment is a very effective way of treating stiff joints from arthritis. Each method works in a slightly different way to bring relief to the affected area. When you use cold treatment it reduces swelling in the affected area whilst heat treatment heightens the circulation in the joint. Patients should experiment with both of these treatments to find out which is more effective, but a good tip is to alternate between hot and cold every five minutes to see if the two methods can actually enhance each other. Applying hot and cold treatment in the morning will give you a good and beneficial start to the day.

2. Exercise has long been known for its ability to keep the body in tip top condition and, bearing in mind that joint stiffness is typically triggered by physical inactivity, it stands to reason that the right kind of exercise will be highly beneficial. Used in conjunction with other pain treatments, exercise can be very useful in

a. Keeping you generally fit and healthy. Exercise is beneficial to your whole body as well as to your joints.

b. Helping you to keep your weight down. This will put less strain on your joints and will also make you feel good about yourself.

c. Increasing your strength and giving you more energy. Exercise will build up your strength and energy levels and will give you a sense of well-being.

d. Giving strength to the muscles around your affected joints and helping to retain bone strength.

e. Helping you to get a better quality of sleep at night

3. Medicines used to tackle joint stiffness from arthritis are typically anti-inflammatory and pain killers. There are three distinct types of pain medicines used to treat arthritis and these are

a. NSAIDS (Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs) – these do exactly what it says on the tin. They relieve pain and inflammation and also fever, but are non-steroidal. Although it is an effective analgesic, Paracetemol (or Acetaminophen) is not included as a NSAID – even though it is often prescribed for arthritis, because it has very little in the way of anti-inflammatory properties. The main NSAIDS are Ibuprofen, aspirin and naproxen and are readily available over the counter.

b. Steroids – The effects of natural steroids have been replicated with Corticosteroids which, when prescribed in strong enough doses, reduce the inflammation, which is the primary cause of the stiff joints that arthritis sufferers have to contend with. There are many Corticosteroids in use today and are often prescribed in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis and lupus

c. Narcotic Pain Killers – These types of drugs relieve pain by going to work on nerve cell pain receptors directly. They are prescribed specifically to tackle the pain that arthritis sufferers have and they have no anti-inflammatory properties at all. They are simply just strong pain killers and include Morphine, Codeine and Tylenol.

4. Alternative Treatments are often popular with patients who have tried everything else and also those that like to supplement traditional methods with something else. It is also attractive to those people who are wary of pharmaceutical solutions to everything.

a. Natural remedies are not without their own dangers as was observed with the popular herbal remedy Kava Kava, which was banned in the UK in 2003 following studies that showed it produced liver failure in some patients who used it and it is still a banned substance in the UK today. Other natural remedies are still available such as White Willow Bark, which has been used to relieve aches, pains and fever for centuries. The bark of the Jamaican Dogwood is also another natural remedy which is known to have anti-inflammatory, analgesic and sedative properties and is available as herbal medicines. Another natural remedy offering the same kind of properties is the Chinese favourite for ‘invigorating the blood’ Corydalis Ambigua.

b. Dietary supplements are becoming increasingly popular as an enhancement or alternative to drugs in the treatment of arthritis and stiff joints. The three most popular supplements are MSM, Glocosamine and Chondroitin

· MSM is a substance that occurs naturally in the human body and also in animals and some foods such as grain, fruit and vegetables. It is an organic sulphur compound which helps build connective tissue in the body. It also has analgesic properties and can reduce the pain of stiff joints. Side effects are extremely rare and can include diarrhea, vomiting, nausea and fatigue.

· Glucosamine is another substance that occurs naturally in the body and is instrumental in the construction of cartilage tissue. It is the deterioration of cartilage tissue that causes the inflammation in arthritis and so using Glucosamine as a dietary supplement can help to rebuild the cartilage tissue over a period of time or at least reduce the deterioration of it. It is a widely held belief that Glucosamine is the most effective of the dietary supplements that people use in order to treat their arthritis.

· Chondroitin, like the other two substances, is found naturally in the human body and is said to relieve the pain associated with arthritis whilst reducing inflammation and easing stiff joints. This in turn serves to improve movement in affected joints.

These three dietary supplements can be taken individually or in any combination and it is really up to the patient to make a decision based upon their own experiences with them. The important thing to be aware of with these dietary supplements is that they take some time to take effect and should be viewed as long term solutions. For immediate relief of pain and inflammation it is advisable to use NSAIDS or other available pain killing medicines.

There is still a long way to go with the research into these supplements to find the real benefits of using them, but one of the overriding factors is the very low risk of suffering any kind of side effect from them. This makes taking a dietary supplement for the treatment of arthritis quite attractive, because it makes them a lot safer than some of the prescribed drugs.

Previous studies have been inconclusive about the effectiveness of these supplements, but it has not stopped them being one of the most popular alternative remedies amongst the millions of arthritis sufferers.

What’s The Verdict?

Arthritis is an incurable disease which affects millions of people across the globe. Just because something is incurable, however, it doesn’t mean that it is unmanageable and hopefully some of the solutions to the problem of stiff joints from arthritis are addressed in this article. By using some of the methods listed above, or even a combination of some or all of them, patients should be able to make an informed decision about which is the best treatment for them. It is important to base those decisions on the advice of a medical professional where appropriate.

It seems reasonable to assume that, using the methods that have been outlined, a patient should benefit from reduced inflammation, less pain and an overall improvement in the movement of the affected joints. The knock on effect will be that the arthritis sufferer will be able to stop stiff joints from arthritis enabling them to improve the quality of their life considerably.

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    • Pamela99 profile image

      Pamela Oglesby 4 years ago from United States

      This is a very helpful article for treating all the pain. I find exercise to be difficult, so I have a routine that I can tolerate. I have been on prednisone for years as I can't get off of it due to my medical problems. It really has too many side effects. I think your many suggestions absolutely help with pain. Voted up and useful.

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