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Stiff Knee after Sitting? Find Out Why (And What to Do)

Stiffening of the knees after inactivity, such as sitting for long periods of time, could become a serious problem. Say you’re at work, busy at your desk for a couple hours, but when you stand up to take a much-needed break, your knees are stiff, perhaps even sore, and mobility is restricted. It’s not something to take lightly, as it could be a symptom of knee osteoarthritis, which worsens over time. However, it could result from other conditions.

Knee Joints

There are actually four bones in the knee. They connect through cartilage which also provides a cushion against friction and pressure, and is partly contained by the knee cap, which helps ensure knees don’t bend the wrong way. It is the largest joint in the human body, and also the joint that receives the most pressure due to activities like walking, jumping, and running. Should the cartilage begin to decay, or suffer from inflammation, knee discomfort is sure to follow.

Knee stiffness doesn’t always involve pain. At times, the stiffness lasts only a few minutes, or clears up after moving around a little. However, if this happening on a regular basis it may be time to consult a physician.



This condition manifests when significant amounts of the knee cartilage have been lost. Thinned cartilage can lead to the bones effectively, or even literally, rubbing against each other when you move. The added stress can lead to deterioration and inflammation of both the bones and the remaining cartilage. This is not a sudden condition, but worsens gradually over time. It usually begins with stiffness in the knees.

If unchecked, it can eventually lead to a painful and debilitating condition. Though commonly associated with seniors, over 27 million Americans suffer from this disease.

Patellofemoral Syndrome

Often called Chondromalacia Patellae, this is a condition where cartilage directly under the kneecap, or patella. has been damaged. This makes it incapable of sustaining any kind of exertion. The cartilage may become soft and even more prone to damage. This cartilage is important as it cushions the knee cap against rubbing against the thigh bone. If this condition worsens, the knee cap can become misaligned, exerting more stress on the cartilage and causing even more damage. This produces inflammation and stiffness.

It most frequently affects athletes or those who have had an injury to the knee. People with this condition shouldn’t use ACE bandages or knee braces, as the compression they exert is more likely to increase, rather than correct, misalignment.

Excess Fluid

Each joint in the human body requires a compound called synovial fluid to lubricate the cartilage and reduce both friction and healthy resiliency against damage. This is a thick liquid; when insufficient amounts are present, it leads to unnecessary wear on the joint that can lead to stiffness and restriction of movement.

This can also occur if imbalances are creating excessive fluid, and is also true if inflammation is taking place that leads to a build-up of fluid. This won’t necessarily result in visible swelling. both fluid loss and inflammation increase with age. Analysis of the fluid will reveal conditions such as gout, arthritis, and infections.


Stiffness accompanied by swelling may also be a sign of knee bursitis. This inflammation of the bursae, or small fluid-filled sacks that help to cushion the knee bones. There are 11 bursae in each of your knees. Any one of them can become infected and inflamed, but it most commonly occurs above the knee cap or along the inner knee. The most common causes are repetitive motion injuries, trauma (acute bursitis), or infections.


Naturally, the specific treatment that’s recommended will depend upon the root cause and the extent of the damage. Correctly diagnosing a knee condition may involve procedures such as MRI, arthroscopy, or synovial fluid analysis. Medical testing will provide images and data that allow your physician to isolate the underlying condition and formulate a plan of treatment.


For knee arthritis or Chondromalacia Patellae, the condition is not curable, which means it should be caught as soon as possible after knee stiffness has become a problem. Some medications can alleviate the pain and stiffness, making the condition manageable so that those benefitting from early diagnosis can lead an active, mobile lifestyle. These medicines may be common pain killers like acetaminophen, and/or anti-inflammatories. Ice and heat therapy can also provide relief when stiffness or discomfort occur. In severe cases, the only effective solution may be surgery to replace or realign the knee.

Treatment of bursitis usually involved the same medications, as well as following some advice on good practices to speed recovery. Some forms of bursitis ae curable, and others are chronic.

For excess fluid problems, often draining the fluid, followed by rest and proper medications, can eliminate the problem. Frequently, some of the other reasons for knee stiffness may be involved.


Rigorous activity like running, sports, or workouts should be eliminated or minimized as they can put considerable strain on the knee joints. This is most likely to aggravate an existing knee problem. They may even create further dislocation of the knee cap. However, low-impact exercises that strengthen the surrounding bones and ligaments can create better joint health and relieve symptoms. These exercises could take the form of casual walking, swimming, bicycling, or cardio equipment like ski machines.

A physical therapist could also suggest some beneficial exercises. Before taking up any exercise program, especially for the elderly or those with pronounced knee problems, check with your physician.

Dietary Supplements

There are many dietary changes which can help promote knee health. One of the most common and effective over-the-counter supplements is a combination of glucosamine and chondroitin (often marketed as “glucosamine chondroitin”), which provide two of the staple components for joint health. There are also a number of brand-name supplements specifically marketed for supporting joints, though you’ll have to experiment and decide what works best.

A number of other food substances are thought to be helpful. Fish, with it’s fatty omega-3 oils, is said to promote joint health. Eggs, oatmeal, cherries, and virtually any kind of nuts and seeds may help. This includes spices like cinnamon, garlic, turmeric, cloves, and cayenne pepper. None of these, however, are a good substitute for a doctor’s prescription.


Stiff knees are one of the symptoms of the onset of several disorders that could become serious. Healthy knees are essential for staying mobile as you age. It’s important to see a physician if you’re experiencing knee problems.


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