Stiffness is more than just duration and severity: a qualitative exploration in people with rheumatoid arthritis

Serena Halls, Emma K Dures, John R Kirwan, Jon Pollock, Gill Baker, Avis Edmunds, Sarah E Hewlett

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

32 Citations (Scopus)
328 Downloads (Pure)


OBJECTIVE: Stiffness is internationally recognized as an important indicator of inflammatory activity in RA but is poorly understood and difficult to measure. The aim of this study was to explore the experience of stiffness from the patient perspective.

METHODS: Semi-structured interviews conducted with 16 RA patients were analysed independently by researchers and pat.ient partners using inductive thematic analysis.

RESULTS: Six themes were identified. Part of having RA identified stiffness as a normal consequence of RA, perceived as associated with disease-related aspects such as fluctuating disease activity, other RA symptoms and disease duration. Local and widespread highlighted stiffness occurring not only in joints, but also over the whole body, being more widespread during the morning or flare. Linked to behaviour and environment illustrated factors that influence stiffness, including movement, medications and weather. Highly variable captured the fluctuating nature of stiffness within and between patients and in relation to temporality, duration and intensity. Impacts on daily life emphasized the effect of stiffness on a range of domains, including physical function, quality of life, psychological well-being, activities of daily living and participation in work and leisure activities. Requires self-management detailed self-management strategies targeting both the symptom and its consequences.

CONCLUSION: Patients' experiences of stiffness were varied, complex and not exclusive to the morning period. Importantly, stiffness was reported in terms of impact rather than the traditional measurement concepts of severity or duration. Based on these findings, further research is needed to develop a patient-centred measure that adequately reflects inflammatory activity.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)615-622
Number of pages8
Issue number4
Early online date11 Dec 2014
Publication statusPublished - 4 Apr 2015


  • patient experience
  • qualitative
  • rheumatoid arthritis
  • stiffness


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