What is morning stiffness?
Morning stiffness occurs due to a long period of inactivity or little movement, such as sleep, which means little movement for your joints and tissues. One theory is that the fluid in the joints acts like a gel substance which is more liquid as it moves around, but tends more towards a solid after sitting for a period of time.
Who is more prone to morning stiffness?
As humans age, they often slow down and begin to lose mobility. The cartilage that forms joints and allows bones to glide past one another seamlessly also begins to wear down, allowing the bones to contact one another, resulting in pain. The experience of this pain and inflammation is a sense of stiffness in the morning as the joint has been relatively immobile during the night.
What are the causes?
One of the most common causes of morning stiffness is arthritis, an umbrella category of broad medical conditions that affect joints throughout the body and encompass over 100 different forms of arthritis. The most common of these is osteoarthritis which affects more Canadians than all other forms combined. This disease is a progressive degeneration of the joints with the symptoms of pain and stiffness fluctuating, but the intensity of the pain typically increasing.
Having an accumulation of fat tissue to the point of being overweight or obese puts a lot of stress on the joints of the body, especially those of the knees. A study from Arthritis Research Canada demonstrated that the majority of individuals, no matter what stage of osteoarthritis they were at, presented with knee swelling. This could be a sign to look out for if you begin noticing a touch of morning stiffness yourself.
Are there any tests that might tell me I have these arthritic conditions?
Patients afflicted by rheumatoid arthritis will present with elevated rheumatoid factors, proteins that attack healthy tissues. Another marker that doctors can measure is c-reactive protein (CRP), an agent produced by the liver that reflects the levels of inflammation in the body. The CRP can be used to measure how effective the treatment is as one would expect the inflammation in the body to decline with intervention, but many aspects can affect this value.
What can be done to manage it?
An herbal remedy to consider is one known as Devil's Claw (Harpagophytum procumbens). The active components of this plant are known as harpagosides which have been shown to suppress the production of pro-inflammatory agents circulating through the body and joints. The European Medicines Agency notes that it could take 2-3 months to notice significant benefits as the harpagosides accumulate in the tissues of the body with patients noticing decreased pain and increased joint mobility. Products such as Joint Pain Relief are an easy way to begin building these stores of harpagosides in the body.
Should I exercise the area or will that cause more pain?
Like any part of the body, in order to strengthen the area, it's important to exercise the muscles and connective tissues that form the joints. From a medical standpoint, exercise is considered a first-line approach for those with osteoarthritis with the evidence supporting both aerobic and strength exercise. There is strong support for water-based aerobic workouts such as with aquafit classes due to the buoyancy of the water. This will also help manage your body mass index, a critical aspect not only in arthritic conditions, but overall health as well.
Obesity has been shown to cause individuals to develop arthritic conditions earlier in life, cause an increase in pro-inflammatory adipokines (those produced by fatty tissue), and increase the risk of total joint replacement and impaired quality of life.
Would a change in diet alleviate my morning stiffness?
Absolutely. An anti-inflammatory diet, one rich in foods with anti-inflammatory properties and low in those with pro-inflammatory properties can have lasting impacts on your morning stiffness and the progression of the condition itself. Foods that can aggravate and inflame the body can include refined sugars, well-done red meats, processed meats, fried foods, and white wheat products. Foods that will battle these include green leafy vegetables such as kale or spinach, omega-3 fatty acids from fish such as salmon or mackerel and extra virgin olive oil, and berries such as blueberries and cherries. While we do our best to avoid the naughty foods, a treat here and there won't cause you to immediately develop inflammation.