6 steps to better mornings with arthritis

Arthritis/Back Pain /Joint Pain

People with arthritis often experience more severe pain and stiffness first thing in the morning, Dr Christine Haseler, a GP with a special interest in arthritis says: “Joints affected by osteoarthritis often stiffen up in the mornings and can make nights uncomfortable and restless. It’s important to sleep, but because it’s a period of stillness, it will make pain and stiffness more pronounced.”

Small adjustments to your routine can really help. We asked Dr Haseler and rheumatology occupational therapist Angela Jacklin for their advice on getting your day off to the best possible start.

Improve your sleep

A bad night’s sleep means you wake up feeling terrible – and it may make arthritis symptoms worse. So, if you want a better morning, an important first step is to do everything possible to have a better night.

First, make sure your room is dark and your bed is comfortable. Jacklin suggests trying a thin memory-foam mattress topper. “It may provide some extra comfort and cushioning for your joints, or to pop between your knees if you sleep on your side."

Keep Warm

Check the temperature in your room and the weight of your duvet. “You may prefer to keep your room warm and your duvet light, so there’s not too much pressure on your body,” says Jacklin. “Consider having a throw at the bottom of your bed that you can pull up if you’re cold.”

She suggests turning on an electric blanket for a few minutes first thing. “Heat is a big reliever of morning stiffness,” she adds.

Many people find a hot shower eases stiff joints. “Soak sore hands in a sink full of warm water, squeezing a soft sponge to flex and extend your fingers,” Jacklin says.

Take your meds

Taking painkillers before you get up can help, but make sure you follow the instructions on the pack – some must be taken with food.

“Keep your medication by your bed, with a snack and a drink – you could even prepare a flask of tea the night before,” says Jacklin.

“Have something to eat, take your medication, and wait for it to kick in. You could use the time to do stretches, have a cup of tea and plan your day.”

Stretch

Gentle movement can really help relieve stiffness. In 2016, American researchers surveyed a group of older adults who were doing a gentle exercise programme once a week. After eight weeks, 95 per cent reported less stiffness, 92 per cent less fatigue, and 84 per cent less pain.

Dr Hasler says: “Start the day with simple stretches to get your joints moving and reduce stiffness and pain, or do a short yoga, Pilates or tai chi session. It usually takes less than 30 minutes to see significant improvement.”

You can do simple stretches – such as flexing and extending toes, fingers, hands and wrists – in bed before getting up.

Help in the house

An occupational therapist can visit your home to assess it and the kinds of things that might help you. If getting from lying to sitting is difficult, a mattress elevator can help. This electronic device raises the top part of your mattress at the touch of a button, taking you into a sitting position.

If getting out of bed is challenging, Jacklin suggests a bed rail. “You can use it to help you get into a seated position, then to help you stand up," she says.

Smaller aids, such as button hooks, zip pullers, sock aids and long handled shoehorns can make dressing easier. “Select clothes that are easy to pull on and off, and avoid fiddly fastenings,” suggests Jacklin.

Plan ahead

If mornings are hectic, try to do as much as you can the night before. “Time can slip away in the morning, especially if you take a bit longer to reduce stiffness and get going,” says Jacklin. “Put out your clothes the night before. Get packed lunches ready and in the fridge and set out bowls and cereal for breakfast. Get family members to help if possible.”

Setting your alarm for half an hour earlier is a good idea as it will allow you time to loosen up and ease into the day. “That gives you time to take your medication and do some stretches, so when you get up at your normal time, you’re ready to go," says Jacklin.

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