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Is Joint Stiffness a Sign to Take Action?

By: Jason Makoutz, DPT

Joint stiffness is one of the most common complaints we get at Loudoun Sports Therapy Center. Whether you just wake up with stiffness or it is persistent throughout the day it may be a sign that you should seek help.

Common Causes of Joint Stiffness:

  • Immobility
  • Capsular tightness
  • inflammation/swelling
  • Post surgical

Joint stiffness may just be from aging, but in most cases, it’s a sign of an underlying issue. Many times if you are experiencing joint stiffness when you wake up with stiffness that goes away after beginning to move its due to age. If you are experiencing stiffness that persists throughout the day and interferes with your daily activities it is most likely a sign of an underlying cause.

Joint stiffness may be just a nuisance at first, but if left untreated it can begin to affect daily activities such as reaching up into the cabinets or squatting down to pick up something off the floor. The scary thing is it can creep up on you slowly and you don’t even realize you are now using your left arm to do tasks that you’ve used your right arm for your entire life or you are asking your kids to pick up the grocery bag from the ground because its too hard to squat down.

If your joint as sustained an injury (tear, sprain, strain) it can become stiff. When an injury occurs the body goes through a normal inflammatory process to help the injury heal. This inflammation is productive at first, but if it persists because the injury is left untreated it can do more harm than good. Edema or swelling that persists prevents the joint from moving through its full range of motion and if it becomes severe enough may even inhibit muscle use/activation. These kinds of symptoms are often seen after a knee injury such as meniscus tear or a sprain to a ligament.

Capsular tightness may occur from a specific injury and its your body’s response to protect the joint or it may be idiopathic (meaning from no known cause). We most commonly see this kind of joint stiffness with frozen shoulder or adhesive capsulitis. For whatever reason the capsule surrounding the shoulder becomes irritated, making it very hard to move your shoulder through its range of motion. Most people first notice that its hard to put their wallet in their back pocket or fasten their bra. It is very important to get on top of this kind of joint stiffness, if left untreated it could take up to 2 years to resolve, often resulting in permanent range of motion loss.

Many times after surgery the body part is left immobilize to allow the tissue to heal. This is important, but just as important is to get that joint moving as soon as possible before the joint becomes too stiff. If left for too long the joint becomes very stiff and hard to move. Not only is it more painful to move through the range of motion but if the motion is not achieved early on it is most likely never coming back. Most times early after surgery the way to prevent stiff joints and loss of motion is performing passive range of motion which is best done by a licensed Doctor of Physical Therapy who has experience with post surgical patients.

Don’t wait to let the joint stiffness progress  to decrease range of motion and affect your daily activities/work, seek help. Physical Therapy is an effective conservative way to relieve your joint stiffness and help you return to the activities you enjoy doing pain free. At Loudoun Sports Therapy center one of our Doctors of Physical Therapy will take you through a thorough evaluation to determine where the stiffness is coming from and how to treat it. They will talk to you about your daily activities and what leisure/work activities you’d like to get back doing. That could be anything from sleeping through the entire night pain free to returning to gardening or even skiing. We will be able to get you out of the vicious cycle of stiffness/pain.

If you or someone you know has experienced or is currently experiencing any of these issues or just have generally achiness/pain in your neck call our office today at 703-450-4300. We can evaluate you and determine what steps you need to take to return back to your pain free life!


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