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Stiff Knees Mean Arthritis?

DrSugar Answers: Stiff Knees?

DrSugar is in the house! And she's answering your health-related questions.

Dear Doc,
I just turned 32 and boy are my joints feeling it. This aging thing is real. I run and bike regularly and try to add yoga into my workout schedule, but really only do it once a month. The problem is my knees — well, knee — my right one. If I keep it bent for a short period of time (five minutes or so), like sitting crossed legged or a low kneel with my butt on my heels, my knee gets super stiff. It takes a couple minutes before I can walk normally again. I have just been ignoring the stiffness (it isn’t exactly painful), but is this a sign of arthritis? Or do I need to stretch more? Is there anything I can do to help my knee?
One Knee Off

This is a great question, as I am also in my early 30s and have noticed that my right knee becomes very swollen and painful after sitting for a long period of time. I’m sure there are many FitSugar readers who have had these same symptoms! First I will discuss knee stiffness and pain and its possible diagnoses. I will then provide some information on treatment and prevention for knee pain and stiffness. For all this information, keep reading.

According to Merck, virtually all joint injuries and diseases produce a stiff, aching pain. Joint stiffness is caused by an inflammation in the synovium (the lining of the joint). According to MedlinePlus, this inflammation can occur as a result of many different medical conditions including: autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, overuse of the joint, bursitis (inflammation of the fluid filled sacs that cushion bones), gout and infection. If the inflammation does not go away and the pain and stiffness continue, the diagnosis is usually chronic arthritis.


Osteoarthritis (which is a degenerative wear and tear process on the joints that often develops slowly and can worsen over time) is the most common type. Arthritis can occur in men and women of all ages and about 37 million people in America have arthritis of some kind. Risk factors for arthritis include: being overweight, previously injuring the affected joint, and using the affected joint in a repetitive action that puts stress on the joint. According to the Mayo Clinic, other symptoms of arthritis can include: tenderness to the joint when you apply pressure to it, loss of flexibility of the joint, a grating sensation (either heard or felt when you move the joint), redness of the joint, or swelling/deformity of the joint.

As I’ve already discussed, there are many different possible causes for joint stiffness and pain, therefore it’s hard to say whether your joint stiffness is a sign of arthritis, although it is a possibility. In order to effectively work up the exact cause of your joint stiffness and pain, I would recommend seeing your physician for further evaluation and physical examination. Your physician will look for the previously discussed symptoms and signs and depending on what your history and physical examination shows, may order imaging (x-rays or MRI) or lab tests (blood work or joint fluid analysis).

The Mayo Clinic website has great information regarding treatment and drugs, lifestyle, and home remedies, as well as alternative medicine options for arthritis. Treatment and drugs for arthritis will depend on what your diagnosis is and would need to be discussed with your physician. In terms of lifestyle and home remedies, they recommend: rest, weight loss, heat (relieves stiffness and should be warm, not hot), and cold (for pain and muscle spasms). Alternative therapies can include acupuncture, vitamin supplements (such as glucosamine/chondroitin), and yoga or tai chi.

The take-home message for you is that getting a diagnosis from your physician will lead you in the right direction in terms of treatment and medications. They will also be able to provide you with advice on lifestyle and alternative therapies that can help whatever condition they may find. Good luck and stay healthy!

DrSugar's posts are for informational purposes only and should not be considered medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment recommendations. Click here for more details.

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