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Morning Soreness and Joint Stiffness

Do you wake up to pain every morning?
Do you wake up to pain every morning?

After a vigorous workout, it's normal to feel a little stiff and sore. That can continue for up to two days. However, some people wake up every morning feeling stiffness and pain, not just after intense exercise.

During the day, your joints get lubricated with something called synovial fluid. It's in all your joints, including your feet, hands, hips, knees and shoulders. Your movement during the day keeps that fluid circulating and reduces friction between the articular cartilage and other tissues in joints.

Think of synovial fluid like grease that allows bones to move past each other without causing friction or pain. Once you go to bed, you aren't moving much, and synovial fluid can't circulate as easily.

But that's not all. Research published in the FASEB Journal points to a protein called cryptochrome contributing to the issue. The protein cryptochrome represses inflammatory pathways while we sleep, so our bodies don't feel as much pain. When we wake up, the effect wears off. So for the first 15 minutes or so, we're acutely aware of the pain and stiffness.

Fortunately, there are two things you can do to relieve pain when you get up.

First, stretch for a few minutes. Wiggle your fingers and toes. Move slowly and get that synovial fluid lubricating your joints.

Second, take a warm shower. The heat will help open up blood vessels, improve circulation and release tension.

Then there are four long-term things you can do to deal with the problem.

Check out your mattress and ask these questions. Is the mattress comfortable for you? When you lay down, is your body supported evenly or did it sag in the middle around your hips? Are your pressure points supported, including your knees, hips, shoulders and head?

The typical life of a mattress is 7 - 10 years. If it's older than that, it may be time to look for a replacement. Remember that what worked for you in the past might not be appropriate now. Our bodies change as we age. Weight gain, weight loss, injuries and illness can all change our needs. Use reviews from Consumer Reports to figure out what might work better.

See if your pillows are doing their job. The purpose of a pillow is to align your cervical spine so your neck doesn't bend or have muscle tightness while you sleep. Test different firmness and thickness levels until you find one that keeps you in alignment while also being comfortable.

Look at the foods you eat. Inflammation, one of the prime causes of joint pain, is triggered by many common foods. Things that are higher in fat and sugar like fried foods, processed meats, high carbohydrate foods low in fiber, cakes, cookies and sugar-filled drinks can all promote inflammation. The more of them you eat, the more stiffness and pain you're liable to experience.

Replace those foods with anti-inflammatory choices like whole fruits, vegetables, fiber-rich whole grains and nuts. Limit meat to lean cuts and fish. Cut down on heavily processed foods as much as possible.

Exercise regularly. Yes, when you first start to exercise, you'll feel more sore and stiff than usual. However, after a few days, your body will grow stronger and adjust. Researchers have found regular exercise reduces inflammation, especially as we age.

Exercise can also help you lose weight if you're heavy and maintain a healthy weight as you age. It's an excellent way to reduce stress and can help you increase joint mobility. The National Institutes of Health recommend a minimum of 150 minutes of exercise a week for healthy adults. That's just 30 minutes a day for five days a week.

For chronic joint pain that lasts longer than an hour, your doctor should test for the most common causes. They'll be looking for arthritis, autoimmune disorders, bleeding disorders, gout, injury to the joint, infections and thyroid disease. Typically, a doctor will perform a procedure called an arthrocentesis to get a sample of your synovial fluid and take a closer look.

There are some cases where people have too much fluid, so doctors remove a little of the excess to relieve pain. If your doctor can identify one of the other causes, treatment can begin.

Finally, don't be lured by the marketing of joint health supplements like glucosamine or chondroitin. They haven't been proven effective for long-term use.

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CAUTION: Check with your doctor before
beginning any diet or exercise program.