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Stiff Joints: Why They Hurt & How To Treat Them

Pain and stiffness often go together, but joint stiffness can occur its own.  Joint stiffness can limit your ability to perform usual tasks like turning your neck to check behind you while driving.  Stiffness can also be a warning sign that part of the body is vulnerable to future injury.

So what are the causes of stiffness?

     1. Disuse and Lack of Movement

Our bodies are made to move.

When we’re not regularly moving to our full range, we can begin to feel ‘tight’. The cause of this may be a combination of the capsule that surrounds the joint tightening up and the muscles that surround the joint shortening and losing flexibility.

Stiff and tight muscles can cause you to feel as though your joints are stiff, even if it’s only the muscle length that’s restricting the movement. Joint mobilisations, manipulation and muscle stretches/massage can have a significant effect in improving the symptoms.

Joint mobilisations, manipulation and muscle stretches/massage can have a significant effect in improving the symptomsThe most important way to maintain full movement is to regularly move joints through their full range. This also helps to keep muscles and joints healthy. Your physiotherapist can advise you on how to best approach this with a targeted set of exercises.

     2. Osteoarthritis (OA)

OA is a degenerative disease characterised by a breakdown of joint surface cartilage and the growth of bony osteophytes around areas of stress. While OA is increasingly common as we age, it is thought that the primary cause is abnormal load and stress to joint surfaces and not simply ageing itself.

As the joint space between two joint surfaces become uneven, joints affected by OA can feel stiff or even ‘blocked’. A person with OA will usually feel stiff for around 15-20 minutes after being still.

Physiotherapy programs that help strengthen the muscles surrounding the joints, to help absorb weight-bearing forces, have positive results on OA symptoms.

     3. Inflammatory Related Stiffness

The inflammatory process is characterised by swelling and pain around a specific area. Usually, this is a response to damage to the body. As an area swells, this will allow less space for movement and a sensation of stiffness, as anyone who has had sprained an ankle can attest to. Acute inflammation will cause swelling that increases over 24-48 hours and subsides gradually. Autoimmune disorders can cause the body to mistakenly have an inflammatory reaction where there has been no injury, with resulting pain and stiffness. Rheumatoid arthritis and ankylosing spondylitis are two examples of such disorders.

As an area swells, there’s less space for movement and hence we experience stiffness – as anyone who has had sprained an ankle can attest to. Acute inflammation will cause swelling that increases over 24-48 hours and subsides gradually. Autoimmune disorders can cause the body to mistakenly have an inflammatory reaction where there has been no injury, with resulting pain and stiffness. Rheumatoid arthritis and ankylosing spondylitis are two examples of such disorders.

Stiffness caused by inflammatory disorders is characterised by a feeling of stiffness after rest, particularly in the morning, which can take more than 30 mins to subside. Inflammatory disorders unrelated to injuries are complex in cause and require collaboration with medical teams for best treatment outcomes. Acute injuries are best managed by following RICE protocols (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation). Speak to your physiotherapist for more info regarding a specific condition.

Caboolture Physical Therapy Centre - serving people in need from the following areas: Caboolture, Morayfield, Elimbah, Wamuran, Beerburrum, Beerwah, Glasshouse Mountains, Toorbul, Donnybrook, Ningi, Woodford, Kilcoy, Bribie Island, Goodwin Beach, Sandstone Point, Banksia Beach, Bongaree, Bellar, Woorim, Burpengary & Beachmere.

About 

Kaye graduated from the University of Qld in 1983 with a Bachelor of Physiotherapy. She worked in Canberra, Sydney, London, Lincoln and Redcliffe before starting her first practice in 1989. more about Kaye