As people age it is common to notice some degree of joint stiffness. Probably the two most common times it arises are when first waking up or else after sitting for a long period of time.
There are a number of causes for stiff joints and the best recommendation is to practice good joint health, including a balanced diet, regular sleep habits and enough exercise to keep your joints flexible and loose.
What Causes Stiff Joints?
Before talking about how joints get stiff we should define what joints are. A joint is a structure in the human body where two parts of the skeleton are fitted together. So they are the meeting places between two or more bones and are for the purpose of movement.
There are 206 bones in the skeletal structure and, although it might not sound mathematically possible, you have more joints in your body than bones. Joints help us with our movements and some joints work a lot while others don’t move at all, like the joints in the skull. Because they help us get things done we really want to keep our joints in good shape.
Joints and Body Movement
All through the day we have things to do, and the body does a lot of movement. Body movements involve motion of all or part of the body, especially at a joint or joints. Since joints are ‘in demand’ they bear a lot of stress when we do things, especially like heavy lifting or strenuous exercise.
Movement is made possible because of the way that bones, muscles, tendons and ligaments work together. These parts make up the skeletal system which we use in performing the body’s essential functions.
The bones are rigid tissues that can support weight without bending and we use muscles to cause movement. There are several different types of movements we do all the time like flexing (biceps), extension (triceps) or rotation (hips and shoulders). All of these movements involve muscles contracting across joints, moving one bone toward another.
Although muscles are not technically part of a joint, they’re important because strong muscles help support and protect your joints. As we contract and relax the muscles sometimes we could notice joint stiffness.
Caring for Stiff Joints
When the joints get stiff it is no pleasure for us. As we change our place or position or posture joint stiffness is totally in the way, it’s a bother.
So the best idea is to practice good joint health by having good habits and following these tips:
Healthy Joint Tips:
Do regular exercise – The value of exercise is so important in joint health and it keeps them fresh and flexible especially as you get older. Resistance exercises are a good idea two to three times a week for stronger muscles, which will give your joints more support.
Yoga strengthens both muscles and joints but be careful not to overdo it. If stiffness is too much of a problem then you might want to try restorative or yin yoga, which focus on care and healing for ailing bones, joints and muscles.
Also good are isometric exercises where you tense the muscle, and then relax it. These exercises are not visible to other people but help you with your strength. Isometrics may be a better option if strength training makes your joints hurt.
- We have included an isometric exercise down below >>
Stretch and warm up prior to exercising – Stretches are a great practice and ease you into your exercise routine. You’ll move better if you make it part of your practice. Take a few minutes to stretch and it can make a big difference in how you feel and perform.
Good warmup stretches:
- Standing upper body warm up
- Warm up the wrists (Wrist mobilizations)
- Neck Stretches
- Side body stretch
- Forward bends
- Mobilize the spine
Hold the stretches for 30 seconds without bouncing or jerking, you want it to feel good. Keep it gentle, not too intense.
You can use moist heat or warm baths before and after stretching exercises to help your pain and stiffness. Another good warm up is going for a 10 minute walk.
Build stronger muscles around your joints – Muscles and joints are crucial to bodily movement, without these important body parts you’d be seriously sidelined — you’d be unable to sit, stand, walk, or do any of the activities you do every day. Keeping the muscles around the joints strong is so important for our health and mobility and regular diet, sleep and exercise play the biggest part in the health of our joints.
Practice weight management – It’s easy to forget about our health and accidentally put on some weight. For joint health it’s best to shed some pounds since your size affects some of the strain on your hips, knees, and back.
Even a small amount of weight loss can make a difference, every pound you lose takes four pounds of pressure off the knees. You can ask your doctor about the best way for you to balance your diet and lose some pounds. Just cut down on calories.
Take Omega-3 fatty acids – Omega-3 acids are joint preservers which can curb inflammation in your blood vessels and calm it down in your joints. They are primarily found in fatty fish and some nuts and seeds. You get them from salmon, trout, olive oil, nuts, flaxseeds, avocados and supplements high in the DHA form of omega-3s. It’s good to feed your joints healthy fats.
Take Vitamin D – Vitamin D helps our body absorb calcium and maintain enough calcium and phosphate in our blood so it doesn’t get pulled out of the bones.
Calcium and vitamin D are helpful and dairy products are the best sources of calcium. Other options are green, leafy vegetables like broccoli and kale. If you are not getting enough calcium from food, ask your doctor about supplements.
Wear good footwear – Footwear plays an important part in our posture and helps us stand and sit up straight to protect joints from your neck down to your knees. A walk can improve your posture, and the faster you go, the harder your muscles work to keep you upright. Good footwear is a plus for your joints and overall posture.
An Isometric Exercise
Try this isometric chest press for good exercise and joint strength.
- Place your arms at chest level, then push the palms of your hands together as hard as you can.
- Hold this for five seconds and then release.
- Rest for five seconds then do it again, repeating it five times.
- Build up to holding the press for 10 to 15 seconds at a time, but don’t overdo it.
If it hurts your joints then ask a trainer to show you another type of isometric chest exercise.
Helpful Joint Advice
Stiffness is only one condition that can result from a lack of joint care. Other maladies are strains, sprains, dislocations, and arthritis which are things you want to avoid in practicing good joint health. These ailments are most common in weight-bearing joints: knees, ankles, shoulders, elbows, and wrists.
The more flexible a joint is, the more unstable and fragile it is. That’s why you see so many dislocated shoulders and hip replacements. Joint health is a good practice and its benefits will stay with us all through our life.
Chill the pain – Ice is a natural pain reliever, it numbs our aches and eases swelling. For a sore joint you can apply a cold pack or ice wrapped in a towel and leave it on for up to 20 minutes. Never put ice right on your skin.
Taking Supplements – Supplements are a common product for joint pain and stiffness and they promise to relieve joint pain. Many stores carry Glucosamine and SAM-e which seem to have good research behind them.
The general rule is to ask first before trying these remedies, talk to your doctor if you want to give supplements a try. He can help you decide what is safe and what might affect your medicines or health conditions.
Joint pain and stiffness are a discomfort, pain or inflammation arising from any part of a joint — including cartilage, bone, ligaments, tendons or muscles. Years of use can take their toll on joints, muscles, and bones.
Good joint health is not so hard to do and a wise practice if you want to move and feel good. When you feel joint pain or stiffness it’s good to track it and notify your doctor.
Make a list of your symptoms and when they happen, things like: do you notice them after a particular activity or first thing in the morning? Make a note of when your joint stiffness first began and keep an eye on it. If it lasts more than two weeks then contact your doctor.
It’s not too hard to manage and care for your joints and keep your whole life positive and on a good track!
We hope you have enjoyed this article on Curing Stiff Joints and we welcome you to continue the conversation with questions or suggestions in the comments section down below. We love to hear from you and please like us on Social Media!
Skeleton photo credit: By Cecilia Grierson
Knee Joint photo: By BruceBlaus