Morning stiffness is usually the result of inflammation in the joints and connective tissue like tendons and muscles. Some chronic diseases like arthritis have a link with morning stiffness, and it can also develop in association with physical activity or temporary injury. Getting up and moving around should help the stiffness disperse. If it is so severe that a patient stays in bed or takes hours to get fully moving in the morning, the patient should discuss the situation with a doctor, as there may be a more serious underlying problem.
The biomechanics of morning stiffness are a topic of study, and researchers are not precisely certain about how it develops. The most likely hypothesis is that when patients are asleep and thus not very active, lymph leaks from their blood vessels, especially around inflamed areas where the tissue is already swollen. The excess fluid makes the tissue swell more, making it difficult to move until the patient wakes up and starts gently moving the limb, restoring circulation and allowing the extra fluid to dissipate.
Patients with connective tissue disorders, joint conditions, and diseases like lupus and fibromyalgia often experience morning stiffness as part of their symptoms. It can wax and wane. Patients may notice more stiffness in humid weather, cold times of the year, or after exercising too hard. Patients on medication who are responding well to their drugs usually have less stiffness, and a sudden spike can indicate that drugs are not working as effectively.
As people age, morning stiffness becomes increasingly common, even in active older adults. The connective tissue in the body tends to become weaker with time and this also appears to play a role in limited mobility. Exercises tailored to older adults to help build and retain muscle strength can be helpful. It can also be advisable to have a heater on a timer to warm up rooms in the early morning.
There are some techniques people can use for managing morning stiffness. Gentle exercise can promote healthier circulation and may help patients avoid stiffness in the mornings. Getting appropriate nutrition is also helpful. Some patients may find it useful to use heating pads on their beds, and it can be useful to apply heat in the morning to loosen the joints and muscles before getting up. A doctor may be able to recommend some stretches patients can use when they are stiff in the morning.