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How to Beat Morning Pain From Rheumatoid Arthritis

Reviewed by Michael W. Smith, MD on October 20, 2020

Morning pain is common with rheumatoid arthritis. Your joints may also feel stiff and pop or creak as you get out of bed. You might have trouble getting things done. It could take an hour or more for the pain and stiffness to ease up. But it doesn’t have to stop you.

With a few tips and tricks, you can manage mornings better.

Why You’re Achy in the Morning

During the night, your body releases anti-inflammatory chemicals to calm joint pain and stiffness. By morning, they’re no longer able to fight the chemicals that cause inflammation, so you wake up with stiff, painful joints.

What You Can Do

Try these tips and tricks to loosen up in the morning:

Get moving

The best thing you can do to is to start moving. It increases blood flow to your joints and lubricates your joint surfaces.

Bend and straighten your knees. Rock from side to side to loosen your hips. But be careful if you’re in the middle of an active flare. Going too far may make it worse. Follow that with a few gentle stretches.

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Take a walk. If you aren’t used to exercise, start with 5-10 minutes of easy walking. You can go longer or walk faster as your body gets used to it.

See a physical therapist. They can recommend specific exercises that help ease pain and stiffness.

Apply cold or heat

Ice packs can help ease swelling and pain long enough for you to start your day. You can pick up a gel-filled cold pack at the drugstore or discount store. But in a pinch, a bag of frozen peas make an easy-to-use pack that molds to the shape of the joint. Leave the ice pack on for 20 minutes at a time.

Trade fluffy or scuffy house slippers for thick-soled shoes with arch support.

Heat can help loosen your joints and muscles. Choose moist heat over dry heat, which may work better for easing stiffness.

A good way to get moist heat is to take a warm shower. Try a 10-minute shower with warm water. Don’t go over 15 minutes.

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To warm your hands, fill your sink with warm, soapy water. Move your hands around in the water. Try massaging them too. Or apply baby oil, then move and massage your hands.

Try using an electric blanket on your bed. Turn it on before you go to bed or in the morning to soothe achy, stiff joints.

Stay hydrated

Water is good for your joints. Fluids keep them lubricated, which wards off stiffness. Drink water regularly during the day. At night, put a glass of water on your nightstand so it’s easy to start sipping as soon as you wake up.

Stretches for Stiff, Sore Joints Build strength, boost your energy, and ease stiff joints from RA with these simple stretches.170

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Try medication

Ask your doctor if you can take medicine in the morning to ease your pain and stiffness. They may prescribe a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) to relieve your pain and reduce inflammation.

If you frequently have morning stiffness that lasts longer than an hour, talk to your doctor to see if you need a prescription medication like a disease modifying antirheumatic drug (DMARD) to help with inflammation.

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Make good lifestyle choices

A healthy lifestyle can help you feel better:

  • Eat well.
  • Get enough exercise.
  • Keep your weight at a healthy level.
  • Get plenty of sleep.

Keep your eye on your stress level, too. Too much stress can aggravate medical problems. It’s especially important with rheumatoid arthritis.

Set Yourself Up for Easier Mornings

Little things can make a big difference in making your mornings easier and get you moving and out the door faster.

For example, try using an electric toothbrush. It may be easier on your wrist and hand. Wrap rubber bands around your toothbrush handle to make it easier to grip when your fingers are stiff. After you shower, dry off with a microfiber towel, which is light, absorbs water well, and easily bends into creases.

Try washing your hair every other day to reduce strain on your hands, wrists, and shoulders. Get a cut and style that’s easy to maintain.

WebMD Medical Reference

Sources

SOURCES:

Scandinavian Journal of Rheumatology: “Morning symptoms in rheumatoid arthritis: a defining characteristic and marker of active disease.”

Arthritis Foundation: “Your Arthritis Morning Routine.”

Cleveland Clinic: “Waking Up Stiff? How ‘Morning Gel’ Can Affect Your Joints + Tips for Relief,” What’s Better for Soothing Arthritis Pain? Ice or Heat?”

National Rheumatoid Arthritis Society: “Managing the pain of rheumatoid arthritis,” “Useful Tips.”

American College of Rheumatology: “NSAIDS (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs).”

New England Research Associates: “Rheumatoid Arthritis? Here are some tips for getting ready!”

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