Managing Rheumatoid Arthritis Morning Stiffness
Perhaps one of the most common and prominent symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is morning stiffness. In fact, rheumatologists consider morning stiffness that lasts at least an hour as one of the key signs of an RA diagnosis.
While I have personally experienced extra stiffness in the mornings as a result of my RA, I have to admit I tend to think of morning stiffness in the same way I think about the “morning sickness” that may come with pregnancy. It isn’t the same level of intensity for everyone who has RA and it doesn’t necessarily only happen in the morning.
Still, that being said, a lot of us living with RA do experience extra stiffness first thing in the morning.
What Causes Rheumatoid Arthritis Morning Stiffness?
It’s caused by prolonged joint inactivity, which obviously can’t be avoided while you’re sleeping. Your body’s natural circadian rhythms can also cause a nighttime surge of inflammatory cells that may trigger early morning joint inflammation.
Unfortunately, waking up stiff in the morning is more than just a little inconvenient. Morning stiffness can be an important factor in persistent fatigue. And the effects of morning stiffness can also last throughout the day, affecting your quality of life and psychological well-being.
So, here are some tried and true strategies to make it easier to face the day with rheumatoid arthritis morning stiffness!
1. Do More the Night Before
Although I often feel fatigued at the end of a long day, I’m more physically capable at 6 p.m. than I am at 6 a.m.
So, I try to take a little time every evening to make things easier for myself the next morning. I make lunches for my kids and place essential items for the next day by the door, so nothing gets forgotten if I’m not feeling great the next day.
Other prep ideas could include setting the coffee maker, preparing some healthy breakfast items in advance, or laying out your outfit for the following day. That way if you have a bad night or you’re extra stiff in the morning, there isn’t a lot that needs to be done before you can get to your regularly scheduled activities.
2. Give Yourself Extra Time
If you struggle to get moving in the morning, you may want to consider setting your alarm clock a bit earlier than the time you need to get out of bed.
Pay attention to how long it takes for you to loosen up and get moving in the mornings comfortably – for many of us this is about 30 to 45 minutes – and then set your alarm to give yourself that extra time.
Of course, waking up earlier results in less sleep, even if you don’t get out of bed right away. So it’s also important to consider adjusting what time you are going to bed at night so you can be sure to get adequate rest.
Personally, I’ve found that it works out pretty well to have my husband wake me up when he gets into the shower. His time in the shower gives me a few extra minutes in bed, and by the time he’s done I’m usually able to get moving.
3. Take Time to Stretch
I use my extra time in bed in the mornings for some gentle, range-of-motion stretching to help get my body moving. First, I slowly move my ankles, knees, hips, wrists, fingers, toes, and any other joints that might be bothering me. I like to move these joints one at a time while still under my nice warm covers!
Just five to ten minutes of stretching can help increase blood flow in your body and lubricate your joints. I find that even a few minutes of stretching helps to minimize the pain I ultimately experience once I do manage to get out of bed.