Stiffness from juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA)

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You may experience stiff joints in the morning when your JIA is active. Learn about medications and physical methods to help with stiffness, as well as some coping strategies.

Key points

  • How much trouble you have moving your joints in the morning, or morning stiffness, can be one of the best measures of how active your JIA is.
  • The medications your doctor prescribes for JIA should help with stiffness as well as pain.
  • Other methods to help with stiffness include using heat, doing stretches and using coping strategies such as relaxation and distraction.

Stiffness means that you may have trouble moving your joints. When JIA is active, you probably have stiff joints first thing in the morning each day. This is called morning stiffness, and it can be one of the best measures of your disease activity.

Not everyone with JIA will feel stiff in the morning. Instead of stiffness, some may complain they hurt more in the morning or describe discomfort without pain. Your morning stiffness might last only a few minutes, or it can last the entire day. The longer the stiffness lasts during the day, the more active the disease may be. This can make starting the day difficult and painful. Your stiffness can also vary from day to day.

Medications for stiffness

The medications that your doctor prescribes for JIA should help with stiffness as well as pain. Try to keep track of how long you are stiff in the mornings or after sitting for a long period of time, for example, after a class in school or a long car ride. Let your doctor know how you are doing.

Physical methods to treat stiffness

Physical methods, such as heat and doing stretches, are useful for dealing with morning stiffness.


You can help relieve morning stiffness by taking a hot bath or shower, or using a heat pack. The warmth relaxes muscles and eases the stiffness. You may need some extra time in the morning to do these therapies so that you can feel more comfortable before going to school.

Stretching/range of motion

Stretches and range of motion are exercises that reduce stiffness and help keep your joints and muscles flexible, which can make daily activities easier. Simply put, your range of motion is the normal amount your joints can be moved in certain directions. Stretching gradually expands that range, giving you greater flexibility and less pain and stiffness. Stretching will help you to move more comfortably.

In order to help decrease stiffness, these exercises need to be done regularly, not just on the days you are stiff! You may find that you like to do these stretches while having a hot shower or bath in the morning. It might be hard at first to wake up early to fit in these exercises, but try to make the time. It will help you feel better in the long run.

You also may find that your joints get stiff and sore at school or work, when you are sitting or standing for long periods of time. It is important to let your teacher or employer know that you have JIA. They will need to know that getting up and moving around once in a while will help you feel more comfortable. You could also perform some of your simple stretching or range of motion exercises at this time.

Coping strategies for stiffness

Coping strategies can help you deal with morning stiffness.

Ways to cope with stiffness include:

  • Relaxation: relieving stress and muscle tension.
  • Distraction: focusing your attention on happier thoughts and feelings or doing something fun like going out with friends, reading a favorite book, or listening to music.
  • Changing thinking habits that may contribute to greater stress and discomfort.
Last updated: January 31st 2017