Facts About Morning Stiffness

Health Professional

If you feel stiff and painful in the morning, you probably want to know why you are stiff, what does it mean and what can be done about it.  Morning stiffness effects millions of people worldwide just like you.  Contrary to popular belief, morning stiffness is not just a sign of getting older.

Morning stiffness is actually caused by the lack of joint fluid that lubricates a joint.  This lack of lubrication leaves a joint stiff in the morning.  In normally functioning joints, the joint easily lubricates itself with just a little movement.  Normally, person will not perceive any stiffness at all.  As the fluid is squeezed out the surrounding cartilage, the joint loosens up and moves without a hitch.  In joints affected by inflammation and disease, the joint fluid is less easily released into the joint space.  Conditions like osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis and fibromyalgia are the most common cause of joint stiffness.

How long the stiffness lasts is a key factor to determine what is causing it.  If the morning stiffness lasts longer than an hour, then rheumatoid arthritis is a likely cause.  On the other hand, osteoarthritis usually does not cause stiffness that last more than an hour.  Because the stiffness of osteoarthritis last for a brief period of time, it is less likely to impact activities like work.  The morning stiffness found in those with rheumatoid arthritis can have a huge impact on work productivity or ability to stay in the workforce at all. (1)

Treatment of morning stiffness can start with the basics like staying warm, taking warm showers, doing stretching or more activities.  But ultimately, relieving morning stiffness is best done by treating the underlying disease.  Anti-inflammatory medications and diets can help.  Biologically active medications that treat rheumatoid arthritis are important methods to relieve stiffness too.  In fact, the primary way to determine if the treatment is working is whether or not the morning stiffness improves.

Morning stiffness is not just a symptom that can be whisked under the bed and ignored.  Pay attention to which joints are stiff and for how long they are stiff, this information may ultimately lead to a diagnosis and treatment.


  1. Matilla, K; et al; Impact of Morning Stiffness on Working Behavior and Performance in people with Rheumatoid Arthritis; Rheumatology International, 2014 December 34(12): 1751-8

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