The Top Reasons for Stiff Joints in Seniors

X ray of knee joint

You may have noticed that as you’re getting older, you’re suffering from stiff joints. What are the reasons for these stiff joints?

Age

There’s not much you can do about this one. Here are two reasons why:

  • Cartilage is a spongy material that protects the ends of your bones. Think of it as a shock absorber. As you age, the cartilage begins to dry out and stiffen.
  • Each of the joints in the human body contains synovial fluid. This thick fluid lubricates the joint and decreases friction around the cartilage. As you age, your body makes less synovial fluid.

With dry cartilage and less lubrication, it’s not surprising you feel stiff. Especially in the morning when you wake up or after you’ve been still for several hours. That’s because they synovial fluid can’t easily move around and do its job.

Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis (OA) is the most common types of arthritis in older people. In most cases, OA is simply a result of the normal wear and tear over the years. Many people over the age of 50 are affected and women are affected more often than men. OA affects more than 30 million men and women in the United States.

What causes osteoarthritis?

It’s back to your joints and cartilage. Cartilage doesn’t just get stiff. It can wear away over time or after an injury. When it’s gone, the bones hit one another, and sometimes, tiny pieces break off. The result is a stiff, swollen, painful joint.

Usually, osteoarthritis develops in the weight-bearing joints of the knees, hips, or spine. It’s also common in the fingers. If you lose a lot of cartilage in your knee joints, you may find that your knees curve out. Sometimes, bony spurs along the spine develop. These can lead to pain, numbness, or tingling.

Rheumatoid arthritis

Your immune system is supposed to protect you from outside germs. But sometimes, the system goes wrong. Healthy joints are surrounded by a membrane or synovium. This protective tissue is only a few cells thick. Its job is to produce fluid that lubricates and nourishes the joint. Sometimes your immune system attacks the membrane (the synovium) that lines your joints. When the membrane is irritated or inflamed, it becomes thicker and swollen with excess synovial fluid. The inflamed synovium can eventually invade and destroy the cartilage and bone within the joint. This is what rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is about. RA is most likely to affect your wrist or finger joints, but it can show up anywhere in your body. It often causes constant pain and stiffness. Sometimes, it stays in the background and only flares up now and then.

Other types of arthritis

These forms of arthritis are less common, but they can cause the same symptoms of pain and stiffness.

  • Ankylosing spondylitis This mostly affects your spine, but it can make your hips, hands, or feet feel stiff.
  • Gout The first sign of this build-up of uric acid in your body is often a searing pain in your big toe.
  • Infectious arthritis (Septic arthritis) It often starts with an infection somewhere else in your body that travels to one big joint, like your hip.
  • Psoriatic arthritis People with psoriasis or family members who have it are most likely to get this type. Signs include swollen fingers and pitted nails.

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