February 04, 2020

Joint Stiffness: Causes, Remedies & Prevention

Joint stiffness is something many people experience, especially as they get older. Stiff joints in the morning and stiff joints after sitting are very common. What causes stiff joints? A number of medical conditions can play a role, as can the wear and tear that occurs over decades of use.

What Causes Joint Stiffness?

In addition to normal aging, certain diseases or conditions can cause joint pain and stiffness.

Rheumatoid Arthritis

Arthritis is the most common cause of joint stiffness and pain. More than 1.5 million people in the U.S. are affected by rheumatoid arthritis (RA), one of the most common forms of the disease. RA is both an inflammatory disorder and an autoimmune disease.

RA tends to affect smaller joints first, with symptoms appearing later in larger joints. Overall, it can affect:

  • Fingers
  • Toes
  • Wrists
  • Knees
  • Elbows
  • Ankles
  • Hips
  • Shoulders

There’s no cure for RA, but the symptoms can be managed with medication.


Lupus is an autoimmune disease in which the body’s defenses attack its own tissues and organs. The disease mimics other medical conditions, so it can be hard to diagnose. People with lupus may experience these symptoms in their joints:

  • Stiffness
  • Pain
  • Swelling

Medication can help control these symptoms.


Gout is a type of arthritis that comes on suddenly. Its symptoms may appear overnight, and the condition often affects the big toe first, though it can affect any joint. Gout symptoms include:

  • Sharp pain
  • Stiffness
  • Swelling and warmth
  • Tenderness

Episodes of gout tend to be short-lived. However, people with the condition typically have flare-ups throughout their life. Treatment includes minimizing symptoms and lowering the uric acid level in the blood.


When tiny, fluid-filled sacs called bursae in a joint become inflamed, the condition is called bursitis. This inflammation produces joint pain and stiffness. Bursitis can affect any joint, but it tends to occur more often in large joints, including:

  • Elbows
  • Knees
  • Ankles
  • Hips
  • Shoulders

Like gout, it also commonly affects the big toe. Bursitis generally resolves on its own with rest, which allows the bursae to recover.


Osteoarthritis is a type of disease caused by the wear and tear on a joint. This degenerative condition affects more than 25 million people in the U.S. It’s most common in people over the age of 65.

Osteoarthritis affects a wide range of joints, including:

  • Fingers
  • Back
  • Knees
  • Neck
  • Hips

The condition causes joint stiffness and pain, as well as popping or cracking noises with movement. Treatment for osteoarthritis focuses on reducing swelling in the affected joints and relieving pain. In some severe cases, surgery may be required to improve symptoms.

Remedies for Joint Stiffness

Some people get stiff joint relief using simple joint stiffness remedies. These include:

  • Taking over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medication
  • Applying hot and cold compresses
  • Achieving and maintaining a healthy weight
  • Getting regular exercise
  • Eating a healthy diet
  • Taking supplements like glucosamine sulfate and fish oil

How to Prevent Joint Stiffness

If you’re wondering how to prevent joint stiffness in the first place, actions you can take include:

  • Managing your weight
  • Getting regular activity throughout the day
  • Listening to your body regarding how much exercise is right for you
  • Gently stretching your joints every day

Seek Medical Attention for Joint Stiffness

While joint pain from aging or medical conditions is common, there are steps you can take to minimize its impact on your quality of life. Your doctor can provide suggestions for preventing or addressing your symptoms.

When to See a Doctor for Joint Stiffness:

Often, joint stiffness and pain can be relieved at home. However, if you experience any of these symptoms, you should seek medical attention from your doctor:

  • Intense pain
  • Rapid swelling
  • Inability to bend or move the joint
  • Deformity of the joint
  • Red skin that’s hot to the touch

Request an appointment with the Baptist Health Orthopedic team if you need help with treating joint stiffness.

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