Joint stiffness refers to the feeling of restriction or limitation that makes motion around one’s joints difficult. This term can be used to refer to the lack of movement that occurs around joints for a number of reasons.

Joint stiffness may develop temporarily in the morning as a result of poor blood circulation or simply not moving while sleeping. This temporary stiffness generally improves with movement. However, more serious forms of joint stiffness can result from conditions such as arthritis, lupus and even bone cancer.

Most medical conditions related to joint stiffness tend to manifest themselves as we get older. In some cases, age-related joint stiffness may be linked to our genetic makeup, and we may not have any control over it. However, some instances of joint stiffness are linked to lifestyle choices. This means that we have the capacity to prevent some instances of joint stiffness through diet and exercise.

Examples of Conditions That Cause Joint Stiffness

Arthritis is one of the most common conditions related to joint stiffness. Rheumatoid arthritis is a form of arthritis that occurs more commonly in middle-aged individuals, while osteoarthritis tends to occur more often among older people. In both instances, joint linings and cartilages are degraded, and this leads to joint stiffness as the joint’s natural lubrication is lost. Both forms of arthritis may lead to complications beyond joint stiffness. Nowadays there is a wide range of treatment available for arthritic complaints including drug and medical management, physiotherapy and surgery.

Trips, slips and sprains can lead to a feeling of joint stiffness or restriction. After trauma to a joint a common reaction is swelling. This may happen on the inside or the outside of the joint and in many cases, this will limit joint movement, particularly if the swelling lies within the joint (joint effusion).

Joint stiffness can also be caused by lupus. In such cases, the joint stiffness and other symptoms are likely to be permanent. However, with prescribed medication, diet and exercise, lupus-related joint stiffness can be properly managed.

Preventing Joint Stiffness

Physiotherapists can provide exercises that can help improve joint movement and reduce stiffness. These exercises are generally designed to either increase the range of motion of the joints or to increase the flexibility of body muscles, nerves and connective tissue. Exercises that improve the range of motion in joints include hip rolls, hip swings, trunk rotation exercises, shoulder rolls, side bends, among many others. Stretching exercises, particularly those focused on the lower extremities, tend to increase flexibility. In addition to exercise prescription physiotherapists use a range of techniques to improve joint stiffness. This includes joint manipulation and mobilisation or massage and dry needling to improve muscle flexibility.

There are many online videos that offer instructions on how to properly perform exercises improving mobility of joints and muscles, it’s wise to use a cautious approach with this kind of material though and a normal recommendation is to seek advice from a qualified physiotherapist before undertaking an exercise regime.