Joint stiffness is the sensation of difficulty moving a joint or the apparent loss of range of motion of a joint. Joint stiffness often accompanies joint pain and/or swelling. Depending on the cause of joint stiffness, joint redness, tenderness, warmth, tingling, or numbness of an affected area of the body may be present. Joint stiffness can be caused by injury or disease of the joint and is a common finding in the arthritis conditions. Joint damage, including stiffness, can also occur following injury to the joint. Sometimes injuries or inflammation of the adjacent areas, such as bursae, can cause pain that may limit the movement of a joint and be perceived as joint stiffness. Joint pain is also referred to as arthralgia.
Other causes of joint stiffness
Kasper, D.L., et al., eds. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 19th Ed. United States: McGraw-Hill Education, 2015.Next Article
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Causes of Joint Stiffness
16 Early Signs and Symptoms of Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA)
Early RA symptoms and signs vary differently from person to person. The most common body parts that are initially affected by RA include the small joints of the hands, wrists, and feet, and the knees and hip joints. Joint inflammation causes stiffness. Warmth, redness, and pain may vary in degree.
Ankle Pain (Tendinitis)
Ankle pain is commonly due to a sprain or tendinitis. The severity of ankle sprains ranges from mild (which can resolve within 24 hours) to severe (which can require surgical repair). Tendinitis of the ankle can be caused by trauma or inflammation.
Arthritis (Joint Inflammation)
Arthritis is inflammation of one or more joints. When joints are inflamed they can develop stiffness, warmth, swelling, redness and pain. There are over 100 types of arthritis, including osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, ankylosing spondylitis, psoriatic arthritis, lupus, gout, and pseudogout.
A Baker's cyst, also called a popliteal cyst, is swelling caused by knee joint fluid protruding to the back of the knee (popliteal area of the knee). Not uncommon, Baker's cysts can be caused by virtually any type of joint swelling (arthritis). They are often resolved with removal of excess knee fluid in conjunction with cortisone injections.
Broken Bone (Types of Bone Fractures)
A broken bone is a fracture. There are different types of fractures, such as: compressed, open, stress, greenstick, spiral, vertebral compression, compound, and comminuted. Symptoms of a broken bone include pain at the site of injury, swelling, and bruising around the area of injury. Treatment of a fracture depends on the type and location of the injury.
A bursa is a fluid-filled sac found in the joints that cushions them. Bursitis is an inflammation of the bursae, most commonly caused by repetitive motion. Bursitis can be caused by a bacterial infection and should be treated with antibiotics. Doctors also recommend icing and resting the joint.
Connective Tissue Disease
Connective tissue disease is when the body's connective tissues come under attack, possibly becoming injured by inflammation. Inherited connective tissue diseases include Marfan syndrome and Ehlers-Danlos syndrome. Systemic lupus erythematosus, rheumatoid arthritis, scleroderma, polymositis, and dermatomyositis are examples of connective tissue diseases that have no known cause.
Fibromyalgia is a chronic pain condition characterized by symptoms such as fatigue, sleep disturbances, and tender points. Stress reduction, exercise, and medication are the standard treatments for fibromyalgia.
Buildup of uric acid crystals in a joint causes gouty arthritis. Symptoms and signs include joint pain, swelling, heat, and redness, typically of a single joint. Gout may be treated with diet and lifestyle changes, as well as medication.
Hunter Syndrome (Mucopolysaccharidosis II, MPS II)
Hunter syndrome (mucopolysaccharidosis II, MPS II) is an inherited or genetic disease. Signs and symptoms of Hunter syndrome include diarrhea, voice changes, facial changes, and distended abdomen. Treatment for Hunter syndrome is geared toward symptoms of the disease with idursulfase or Elaprase (enzyme replacement therapy).
Lupus (Systemic Lupus Erythematosus or SLE)
Systemic lupus erythematosus is a condition characterized by chronic inflammation of body tissues caused by autoimmune disease. Lupus can cause disease of the skin, heart, lungs, kidneys, joints, and nervous system. When only the skin is involved, the condition is called discoid lupus. When internal organs are involved, the condition is called systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE).
Lyme disease is a bacterial illness, which is spread by ticks when they bite the skin. Initially the disease affects the skin causing a reddish rash associated with flu-like symptoms. It takes weeks to months after the initial redness of the skin for its effects to spread throughout the body. Lyme disease can be treated with antibiotics. Lyme disease can be prevented by using tick avoidance techniques.
MPS I (Mucopolysaccharidosis Type I, Hurler Syndrome)
MPS I (also referred to as mucopolysaccharidosis Type I or Hurler syndrome) is a genetic, inherited condition that involves chromosome number 4. Symptoms of MPS I include Thick lips Eye problems Chronic nasal discharge Enlarged spleen or other abdominal organs Joint stiffness Coarsening of facial features There is no cure for MPS I, but signs and symptoms may be managed with enzyme replacement therapy and surgery to improve symptoms.
Osteoarthritis is a type of arthritis caused by inflammation, breakdown, and eventual loss of cartilage in the joints. Also known as degenerative arthritis. Osteoarthritis can be caused by aging, heredity, and injury from trauma or disease.
Pigmented Villonodular Synovitis (PVNS)
Pigmented villonodular synovitis (PVNS) is unusual growth of the tissue that lines the tendons in the body (synovium) and joints. PVNS causes hitching of the joint, loss of range of movement, and pain. Diagnosis may incorporate X-rays, MRI, CT scan, and joint aspiration. Treatment involves surgery and radiation if a patient can't have surgery.
Plant Thorn Synovitis
Plant thorn synovitis (plant thorn arthritis) is joint inflammation caused by a thorn puncturing the joint and leaving residual plant matter in the joint. Symptoms and signs include swelling, reddish discoloration, loss of range of motion, pain, tenderness, and stiffness. Treatment involves a surgical procedure called a synovectomy with joint lavage to remove the affected joint lining tissue and thorn fragments.
Polymyalgia rheumatica (PMR) is a disorder of the muscles and joints that causes pain and stiffness in the arms, neck, shoulders, and buttocks. Treatment for polymyalgia rheumatica aims to reduce inflammation with aspirin, ibuprofen, and low doses of cortisone medications.
Pseudogout, a form of arthritis, results when deposits of crystals collect in and around the joints. Symptoms of pseudogout include pain, stiffness, warmth, and joint swelling of the knees, ankles, hips, shoulders, and/or wrists. Treatment for pseudogout aims to decrease inflammation through the use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, ice, and rest.
Psoriatic arthritis is a disease that causes skin and joint inflammation. Symptoms and signs include painful, stiff, and swollen joints, tendinitis, and organ inflammation. Treatment involves anti-inflammatory medications and exercise.
Reactive arthritis is a chronic, systemic rheumatic disease characterized by three conditions, including conjunctivitis, joint inflammation, and genital, urinary, or gastrointestinal system inflammation. Inflammation leads to pain, swelling, warmth, redness, and stiffness of the affected joints. Non-joint areas may experience irritation and pain. Treatment for reactive arthritis depends on which area of the body is affected. Joint inflammation is treated with anti-inflammatory medications.
Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA)
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disease that causes chronic inflammation of the joints, the tissue around the joints, as well as other organs in the body. Because it can affect multiple other organs of the body, rheumatoid arthritis is referred to as a systemic illness and is sometimes called rheumatoid disease. The 16 characteristic early RA signs and symptoms include the following. Anemia Both sides of the body affected (symmetric) Depression Fatigue Fever Joint deformity Joint pain Joint redness Joint stiffness Joint swelling Joint tenderness Joint warmth Limping Loss of joint function Loss of joint range of motion Many joints affected (polyarthritis)
Rheumatology is the study of rheumatic diseases and conditions. Rheumatologists are internal medicine physicians who treat these illnesses, in particular arthritis.
Sacroiliac Joint Dysfunction (SI Joint Pain)
Sacroiliac joint (SI) dysfunction is a general term to reflect pain in the SI joints. Causes of SI joint pain include osteoarthritis, abnormal walking pattern, and disorders that can cause SI joint inflammation including gout, rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, and ankylosing spondylitis. Treatment includes oral medications, cortisone injections, and surgery.
Septic arthritis, or infectious arthritis, is infection of one or more joints by bacteria, viruses, or fungi. Symptoms and signs of septic arthritis include fever, joint pain, chills, swelling, redness, warmth, and stiffness. Treatment involves antibiotics and the drainage of the infected joint.
Sickle Cell Disease (Sickle Cell Anemia)
Sickle cell anemia (sickle cell disease), a blood disease which shortens life expectancy, is caused by an inherited abnormal hemoglobin. Symptoms of sickle cell anemia may include bacterial infections, painful swelling of the hands and feet, fever, leg ulcers, fatigue, anemia, eye damage, and lung and heart injury. Treatment for sickle cell anemia aims to manage and prevent the worst manifestations of the disease and focuses on therapies that block red blood cells from stacking together, which can lead to tissue and organ damage and pain.
Sprains and Strains
An injury to a ligament is called a sprain, and an injury to muscle or tendon is called a strain. Sprains and strains may be caused by repetitive movements or a single stressful incident. Symptoms and signs include pain and swelling. Though treatment depends upon the extent and location of the injury, rest, ice, compression, and elevation are key elements of treatment.
Tennis Elbow (Lateral Epicondylitis)
Tennis elbow is also known as lateral epicondylitis. Symptoms of tennis elbow include tenderness and dull pain of the outer elbow. Resting, applying cold packs, and taking anti-inflammatory medications are usually effective treatments for tennis elbow.
Torn ACL (Anterior Cruciate Ligament Tear)
The anterior cruciate ligament helps to prevent the top and bottom of the knee from sliding back and forth. Symptoms and signs of a torn ACL include knee pain and swelling. Treatment of a torn ACL depends upon the health of the patient and the patient's expectations and willingness to undertake extensive physical therapy. Rehabilitation after surgical repair of an ACL tear may take more than nine months.
A torn meniscus (knee cartilage) may be caused by suddenly stopping, sharply twisting, or deep squatting or kneeling when lifting heavy weight. Symptoms of a meniscal tear include pain with running or walking long distances, popping when climbing stairs, a giving way sensation, locking, or swelling. Treatment depends upon the severity, location, and underlying disease of the knee joint.
Examples of Medications for Joint Stiffness
- acetaminophen (Tylenol, Tylenol Arthritis Pain, Tylenol Ext, Little Fevers Children's Fever/Pain)
- aspirin (acetylsalicylic acid, Bayer, Ecotrin, and others)
- ibuprofen (Advil, Children's Advil/Motrin, Medipren, Motrin, Nuprin, PediaCare Fever, and others)
- naproxen (Aleve, Anaprox, Naprelan, Naprosyn)
- Nonsteroidal Antiinflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs)
- Over-the-Counter Products