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Are your finger joints stiff in the morning?

by Dominique Vanier, B.Sc.H., M.Env.Sc., on 13 January 2016, Muscle and joint
finger joints

Waking up with stiff finger joints can make it challenging to complete your morning routine. Tasks that were once simple – such as making coffee or tying your shoelaces – become labourous and time-consuming.

Stiff finger joints in the morning can be due to several reasons, including arthritis, pregnancy, previous trauma, and over-usage. However, it’s not all bad news; there are many lifestyle and dietary changes that can help make your morning routine more manageable.

Cause of the stiffness

The first step in reducing morning stiff finger joints is understanding the cause of the stiffness. Arthritis is one of the most common causes of finger joint pain, stiffness, and swelling. Literally meaning “joint inflammation,” arthritis is a broad medical condition that affects joints and their surrounding tissues as well as other connective tissues in the body, and encompasses over 100 different rheumatic diseases and conditions.

Osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis are the two most frequently diagnosed types of arthritis. Affecting 10 per cent of the Canadian population, osteoarthritis results from the degeneration of cartilage and typically affects the distal and proximal interphalangeal joints of the hand, as well as the spine, hips, knees, and feet.

Conversely, rheumatoid arthritis requires an underlying genetic susceptibility coupled with an inappropriate immune response, leading to a form of autoimmune chronic inflammation within the synovium that lines the cavity between joints. Rheumatoid arthritis commonly affects the proximal interphalangeal and metacarpophalangeal joints of the hands, in addition to the wrist, ankles and toe joints.

When determining the etiology of stiff finger joints, it is important to evaluate how long the stiffness lasts and when it occurs. If finger joints remain stiff following waking even after a few hours of movement, this is suggestive of a systemic inflammatory cause like rheumatoid arthritis. Alternatively, when stiff finger joints are immediately better with movement in the morning but aggravated by lengthy activity or exercise, osteoarthritis may be the underlying cause. And, it is possible to have both osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis at the same time.

What can you do

Above all, a full diagnostic work-up by your primary healthcare provider is imperative to helping you best manage and understand your symptoms. In the meantime, there are several diet and lifestyle modifications that you can make to reduce symptom exacerbations and prevent further joint degeneration:

  • Eat an anti-inflammatory diet. Consume foods high in omega-3 fatty acids on a daily basis, such as fish, walnuts, and avocados, and consider taking a daily fish oil supplement with at least 2000mg of combined EPA/DHA. A 2010 meta-analysis showed that fish oil significantly decreased joint stiffness in rheumatoid arthritis patients, and may have a similar effect in those suffering from osteoarthritis.
  • Eliminate pro-inflammatory foods. Refined sugar, trans-fat, alcohol, and many dairy products should be avoided. Pro-inflammatory foods add extra inflammation in the body, and may aggravate morning finger joint stiffness.
  • Maintain a healthy Body Mass Index (BMI). Keeping your weight in check through regular exercise will help reduce the stress placed on your joints, and will also increase your “feel good” hormones like endorphins and enkephalins. Strive to exercise three times per week for 45 minutes to 1 hour per session.
  • Apply topical preparations for symptomatic relief. Trying Joint Pain Relief tablets or an Arnica Gel during flare-ups may help ease pain, swelling, and stiffness.
  • Reduce daily stress. Since stress can worsen arthritis symptoms, participating in stress-reducing activities such as yoga or meditation may help relieve some symptoms.


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