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Merck Manual

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Quick Facts

Joint Stiffness


The Manual's Editorial Staff

Last full review/revision Sep 2019| Content last modified Sep 2019
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Joints are places in your body where two bones come together, such as your wrists, elbows, shoulders, hips, knees, and ankles.

Joints also exist where you might not think. For example, there are joints between the many bones in your feet, hands, pelvis, and spine.

What is joint stiffness?

Joint stiffness is when a joint won’t move easily. Stiffness is different from being unable to move because you're weak or not wanting to move a joint because it hurts. Joint stiffness also is different from muscle stiffness. Stiff muscles may come from overdoing exercise or less often from disorders such as polymyalgia rheumatica or fibromyalgia.

  • Joint stiffness can be caused by injury or arthritis

  • Stiffness may be worse in the morning or get worse over the course of the day

  • Stretching and physical therapy may help with your stiffness

What causes joint stiffness?

Joint stiffness is usually caused by:

  • Holding a joint still for a long time, such as when you have a cast or splint on it

  • Different types of arthritis

  • A healed joint injury (such as a sprain)

What will happen at my doctor’s visit?

Your doctor will do ask about your symptoms and do a physical exam.

If doctors aren't sure whether you have arthritis, they may do:

  • Blood tests

  • X-rays

How do doctors treat joint stiffness?

Doctors will treat the cause of your stiffness.

Doctors may also have you treat your stiffness with:

  • Stretching

  • Putting heat on the joint, such as with a heating pad or hot shower

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