Conditions that can cause stiff joints include osteoarthritis, bursitis, rheumatoid arthritis, and more. Medical treatments and home remedies may help to alleviate stiff joints.

Many people who experience joint stiffness tend to feel it after sitting for prolonged periods or after first waking up. Some people experience a mild discomfort that goes away after moving again. Others find that the stiffness lasts longer and is more uncomfortable.

In more severe situations, stiff joints may impact a person’s mobility. People may have difficulty putting weight on their joints, or they may have problems standing or walking.

This article discusses potential causes of joint stiffness. It also explains medical treatments and home remedies to manage stiff joints.

X-Ray image of kneesShare on Pinterest
Tridsanu Thophet/EyeEm/Getty Images

Most people will experience joint stiffness at some point. However, the reasons for the discomfort may vary based on a variety of factors. Some causes are more severe than others.

Sleeping posture

Many times the way people sleep at night can contribute to joint stiffness.

When a person does not sleep in a way that aligns the spine and keeps their neck in a neutral position, they may wake up feeling stiff or achy.

People who sleep on their sides may want to avoid lying on a particular side if it is already feeling stiff. Using a variety of pillows around the body can help keep it in the right sleep position for a good night’s rest and less joint stiffness.

Learn about choosing a mattress for joint pain.

Time of day

In addition to sleeping posture, research shows that joint stiffness may be more severe in the morning when a person first wakes up due to a correlation between inflammation and a person’s circadian clock. This is more likely in cases of joint stiffness resulting from rheumatoid arthritis (RA).

There is also some evidence that poor sleep may make joint discomfort worse at night. This, in turn, contributes to poor sleep. For this reason, people who have conditions like arthritis may find it difficult to get enough rest at night.


Older adults may have stiffer joints due to a lifetime of use. Over time, a person’s range of joint motion can become more restricted. A person may also become less flexible.

The cartilage, which is the cushion that protects the connection between a person’s bones, also begins to wear down. This causes inflammation and can lead to arthritis.


When a person has overweight or obesity, their weight is higher than what doctors consider healthy for their height. The most common way to measure this is with the Body Mass Index (BMI). The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines a BMI higher than 25 as overweight and higher than 30 as obesity.

The flaws of BMI

BMI is a calculation of a person’s body fat based on their height and weight. However, studies suggest it is a poor indicator of a person’s body fat percentage.

It can be misleading because the measure does not account for overall body composition. The BMI measurement overlooks bone density, muscle mass, and other considerations.

For additional information, talk with your doctor about other body fat assessment methods.

Was this helpful?

When the body carries additional weight, this weight places extra pressure on the joints. In addition, fat cells can release proteins into the body that can cause inflammation. Both of these factors together may lead to arthritis, especially osteoarthritis, which can cause joint stiffness.

In addition, research shows that obesity may cause various metabolic issues in the body, which may have a negative effect on bone health as a person ages.

Learn more about how obesity affects the body.


Eating animal and dairy products may play a role in triggering conditions that can cause joint stiffness such as gout or arthritis.

When people eat more of these foods and fewer plant-based foods, they may be more susceptible to joint stiffness.

Research from 2017 shows that choosing some variation of a Mediterranean or vegan diet may help reduce stiffness in people with conditions, such as RA. Specifically, eating more of the following foods may be beneficial:


Bursitis develops when tiny, fluid-filled sacs in the joints called bursae become inflamed. The inflammation causes pain as well as stiffness.

Bursitis can happen in nearly any joint, but it is most common in larger joints, such as:

  • shoulders
  • hips
  • knees
  • ankles
  • elbow

Bursitis usually heals by itself with rest. A person should typically reduce activities that move the affected joint and rest it for long periods.

Resting the joint allows the bursae to recover, causing the pain and stiffness to go away.


Osteoarthritis is a degenerative type of arthritis that affects over 32.5 million people in the United States. This type of arthritis is due to wear and tear. It is more likely to develop in people over 50 years old.

Osteoarthritis often affects:

  • fingers
  • hips
  • knees
  • back
  • neck

As it progresses, it can cause:

  • swelling
  • pain
  • cracking noises with movement

Treatments usually center around relieving pain and reducing swelling in the joints. People whose osteoarthritis is particularly painful and debilitating may require surgery.

Learn more about osteoarthritis.

Rheumatoid arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is another common arthritis that affects about 1.5 million people in the U.S. RA typically appears in adults between the ages of 30 and 60.

RA is an autoimmune disorder that causes the immune system to attack otherwise healthy joints. People with RA experience pain and swelling as the body attacks the joints.

There is no cure for RA. Treatments focus on slowing the progression of the condition.

Rheumatoid arthritis resources

Visit our dedicated hub for more research-backed information and in-depth resources on rheumatoid arthritis.

Was this helpful?


Lupus is another autoimmune disease that causes the immune system to attack healthy tissue, such as muscles and joints. When lupus attacks the joints, symptoms include:

  • swelling
  • stiffness
  • pain

Lupus is often difficult to diagnose because many of the symptoms are similar to other medical conditions. There is no cure and symptoms generally worsen over time.

Treatment focuses on treating the symptoms. Available treatments can be effective in helping people find symptom relief.

Learn about treating lupus and preventing flares.


A note about sex and gender

Sex and gender exist on spectrums. This article will use the terms “male,” “female,” or both to refer to sex assigned at birth. Click here to learn more.

Was this helpful?

Gout is a sudden-onset arthritis that tends to affect males more often than females. Gout is a condition that develops quickly, with symptoms sometimes appearing overnight, often in the big toe.

Symptoms of gout include:

  • severe pain
  • severe tenderness
  • stiff joints
  • swelling and increased warmth of the joint

Gout can develop in any joint. It will typically appear for a short period and then go away. People with gout often experience symptoms on and off throughout their life.

Treatment focuses on reducing the severity of the symptoms and lowering levels of uric acid in the blood.

Read about home remedies for gout.


Fibromyalgia is a chronic condition that causes pain throughout the body. This condition also includes joint stiffness as one of its symptoms.

People who have lupus or rheumatoid arthritis may be more prone to developing fibromyalgia as well and may be more at risk for joint stiffness.

Learn more about fibromyalgia.

There are many over-the-counter (OTC) and home remedies to help alleviate joint stiffness, pain, and swelling.

One type of OTC medication a person can take is nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), which include medications like ibuprofen (Advil), as well as other pain relievers such as acetaminophen (Tylenol).

For people who experience severe joint stiffness as a result of conditions like arthritis, research from 2018 shows that NSAIDs may still be more effective than opioids like morphine.

It is important for individuals to speak with a healthcare professional if the cause of the joint pain is unknown, comes on suddenly, or is accompanied by other symptoms.

People can also choose to try home remedies to reduce joint stiffness along with any other treatments that a healthcare professional has recommended or prescribed.

Home remedies can include:

People do not typically need to contact a healthcare professional if joint stiffness generally occurs first thing in the morning or after sitting for extended periods.

However, they should consult a healthcare professional if stiffness comes on suddenly or does not go away after a few days.

People should also speak with a healthcare professional if they experience any of the following:

  • rapid swelling
  • severe pain
  • deformity of the joints
  • joint redness or discoloration that is hot to touch
  • loss of mobility in the joint

Many people experience joint stiffness as they age. Most often this stiffness wears off after a person gets up and moves around.

Other people, however, may experience joint stiffness as a result of an underlying condition.

Anyone who has any doubt about the cause of their joint stiffness should speak with a healthcare professional to help rule out or treat a potential underlying condition.

Read this article in Spanish.