Joint pain at night can be very annoying; it can be caused by both arthritis and non-arthritic conditions. However, the good news is that there are many options for managing and reducing your nighttime joint pain. For some people, it may be as simple as obtaining a new mattress, while others may need exercise and medications. We've covered various strategies in this article so you can sleep peacefully without having that joint pain.
Why do joints hurt specifically at night?
The exact reason why joints hurt more at night than during the day is unknown; however, there are some theories.
First, the simplest explanation of joint pain is joint stiffness due to decreased movement when sleeping. Additionally, your sleeping position can stress certain joints, leading to pain. Lastly, people with arthritis and gout have more pain during cold temperatures, which is more likely to occur at night.
12 tips to manage joint pain at night
Joint pain can evidently affect everyday life and disrupt sleep. Luckily, there are a number of ways to help people with joint pains at night.
The right exercise program will improve the flexibility and strength of the muscles supporting the joints. Better flexibility can assist with movement and strengthening with stability, and both of these may help in the relief of joint pain. The type of exercise depends on the individual, so the most important decision is choosing an exercise you enjoy that does not cause pain. Some people enjoy running and cycling, while others prefer non-impact activities such as swimming and water aerobics.
2. Stretch before bedtime
Many muscles contract during the day, leading to tightness and nighttime pain. Stretching them lightly before bedtime can help with joint pain. Even though stretching can be a fairly light form of physical exercise, it's best to consult a professional beforehand to ensure proper technique without causing further damage.
3. Obtain a quality mattress
You don't want to be sleeping on a poor mattress, especially if you're having joint pain. Eliminating joint pain at night may be as simple as changing your mattress to a newer one or one of better quality. It is generally recommended to change your mattress every 6–8 years. The best way to find a quality mattress is to go to your local mattress specialty store and discuss your needs with the salesperson. There are many different quality varieties, and it's best to see them close up and try them out.
4. Purchase a mattress topper
Even with a quality mattress, some people do better with a mattress topper that goes on top of the mattress and ranges from 2 to 4 inches. They can be made of many materials, including memory foam, latex, wool, or feathers.
5. Try ice and heat therapy
Ice or heat can be applied before sleep or if the pain wakes you. Deciding which one is better for you is a personal preference. While some people respond better to ice, others respond better to heat.
If you'd like, you can try using heat first, then stretching. After cooling off, you can apply some ice. A reusable ice pack is also a good option for applying ice.
6. Use topical medicines
Topical means you apply it to a certain part of the body. There are many over-the-counter topicals available, including menthol and camphor. The anti-inflammatory diclofenac (Voltaren) is now available in a gel that can be directly applied to the affected area's skin; the anti-inflammatory passes through the skin and tissues to reach the joint.
7. Purchase a cervical pillow
A cervical pillow with specialized thickness in certain areas can help those with neck and shoulder pain. In addition, there are grooves designed to keep the neck in proper alignment.
8. Obtain full body pillows (body contour pillows)
Full body pillows (body contour pillows) run the full body length and help with proper posturing of the neck, back, arms, and legs. Both an arm and leg from the same side go over the pillow.
9. Use prescription medications
There are many prescription medications that your doctor can prescribe to help with joint pain, including non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs) and opioid pain medications. Consulting a professional is the way to get the ideal treatment recommendations.
10. Take over-the-counter (OTC) medications
Over-the-counter (OTC) medications are available, including NSAIDs like ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil), pain relievers like acetaminophen (Tylenol), and aspirin. Over-the-counter medications are not as strong as prescription medications. Before taking any OTC medicines, we recommend you consult with your physician or healthcare provider.
11. Improve sleep environment
Creating a soothing environment for sleep won't necessarily help the joint pain, but it will help you sleep better, so you may be unaware of the pain.
First, try eliminating as much light as possible using dark curtains, a darkening shade, and a sleep mask. Second, try to eliminate disturbing background noise. Numerous applications (apps) are available on smartphones for soothing background noise. Lastly, it is recommended to declutter and remove distractions that could prevent relaxation.
12. Stick to a healthier diet
Combining healthy eating and exercise will keep your weight at a healthy level. Excessive weight places pressure on the joints. Healthy bones require essential nutrients, including vitamin D, calcium, and others.
Types of joints
In simple terms, the joints are the parts of the body where two bones meet. When we talk about joint pain, it can mean discomfort in any of the three types of joints in the body.
The following types are:
- The synovial joints contain lubricating synovial fluid and cartilage in the joint space. These are the movable joints, including the joints of the arms and legs, the spine, and the jaw. Among the three types, these joints tend to be the most common source of pain.
- Fibrous joints are fixed, like those in the skull.
- Cartilaginous joints are joined by cartilage. An example is where the two pubic bones meet.
Causes of joint pain
Different kinds of arthritic or non-arthritic causes can provoke joint pain, especially at night. Let's explore the different types.
Arthritic causes of joint pain
- Rheumatoid arthritis. It is an autoimmune condition where the body mistakes its own tissues for a foreign body and attacks itself, leading to joint inflammation.
- Osteoarthritis. Caused by wear and tear at the weight-bearing joints leading to loss of cartilage.
- Psoriatic arthritis. A type of inflammatory arthritis that affects people with the skin condition psoriasis.
- Gout. Inflammatory arthritis caused by deposits of uric acid crystals.
- Infectious arthritis. An infection in the joint that can be caused by a bacteria, virus, or fungus.
- Ankylosing spondylitis. It initially causes pain in the spine, hips, and shoulders but can spread to other joints. It has no known cause, but there appears to be a genetic component.
Non-arthritic causes of joint pain
- Injuries. These can include a twisting injury causing a sprain or trauma leading to a dislocation in which the bones of the joint move out of alignment.
- Bursitis. It occurs when the fluid-filled sacs (bursa) at the joint, which act as cushions, become filled with fluid due to irritation or inflammation, leading to pain.
- Tendonitis. It is the inflammation of the tendons, which are the thin, fibrous ends of the muscles that attach the muscles to the bones. Tendonitis can result from an injury or overuse and is common in cases of cumulative trauma.
- Cancer. In the bone marrow or other types that spread to the bone can cause joint pain.
The last words
Joint pain at night has many arthritic and non-arthritic causes. However, there are several ways to manage this nighttime pain, including exercise, nighttime stretching, a quality mattress, a mattress topper, ice or heat, topical or oral medications, improving the sleep environment, and eating a healthy diet. In any case, certain treatment methods work differently for everyone, so it's advisable to consult a medical professional for personalized advice and treatment options.
Joint pain at night has arthritic and non-arthritic causes.
Any joint in the body can cause pain; however, it's usually the synovial joints since they are the ones that move.
The exact reason joints hurt more at night than during the day is unknown. However, some theories include nighttime stiffness, cooler temperatures, and sleeping position.
There are many ways to manage joint pain at night, including exercise, a better mattress or a mattress topper, stretching, topicals, medications, special pillows, and a sleep environment.
- University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. How to cope with nighttime joint pain.