Morning stiffness in the muscles and joints is the hallmark of inflammatory kinds of arthritis. With a sprained ankle, with rheumatoid arthritis, with ankylosing spondylitis, or with other kinds of inflammation, you may notice that the sore area is stiff in the morning but loosens up as the day goes on. This phenomenon is most pronounced in rheumatoid arthritis, in which the morning stiffness generally lasts for an hour or more and can be a great aggravation. With osteoarthritis the stiffness usually lasts only a few moments.
No one really understands the reason for morning stiffness. Presumably, while the body is inactive, fluid leaks out from the small blood vessels and capillaries and the tissues become "waterlogged." Then, if you try to move the part, the swollen tissues feel stiff until the motion pumps the fluid out through the lymph channels and the veins. If you sit or lie down during the day the stiffness may return. This phenomenon is called "gelling" or the "gel phenomenon," after the behavior of gelatin, which remains liquid if kept moving and warm but solidifies if it sits for long. The phenomenon appears to be normal, but in the patient with inflammatory arthritis it can be very vexing. Don't let morning stiffness keep you in bed. If your stiffness is that severe, call the doctor and discuss the problem today.
With a minor local condition, such as a sprained ankle or a tennis elbow, don't worry about the stiffness. Think of it as a normal part of the process of bringing healing materials to the injured area. Loosen up carefully before activities and keep in mind that the healing is not yet complete. You should continue to protect the injured part. With a condition like rheumatoid arthritis, the stiffness is apt to persist and you are going to have to come to grips with the problem. Use all the tricks you can to reduce the inflammation and the stiffness. Be sure that you take any prescribed medication strictly according to schedule. Morning stiffness can be a sign of the activity of arthritis, and the best way to reduce stiffness is to treat the arthritis. Your stiffness may be a signal that you have been sloppy in taking prescribed drugs. Or you may need more medication or a different drug. In particular, don't forget to take the last dose in the evening.
Ask your doctor about changing your medication schedule. Perhaps you can take a drug later in the evening or in the middle of the night so that there is medication in your blood in the morning when you are most stiff. Some people taking aspirin find that taking a coated aspirin are absorbed more slowly, and the aspirin level in the bloodstream lasts a bit longer. Avoid painkillers, they don't help morning stiffness. Stretch gloves, of spandex or similar elastic material, may help morning stiffness in the hands if worn overnight. Give them a try, the idea is to prevent the tissues from becoming waterlogged. Try a warm bath or shower upon rising. Work at gentle exercises in the bed before you get up. You will have a certain amount of stiffness each day, and you might as well get it worked out as soon as possible. Some people find that they are helped by using an electric blanket.