Many people with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) scoff at the notion of anti-inflammatory drugs being much of a help when it comes to painful flares.

But the truth is these nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can help some people with pain and inflammation — and now, research shows they may help ease morning stiffness, too.

A recently published article in the medical journal Drugs & Aging showed evidence that anti-inflammatory drugs might help lessen morning stiffness in some people with RA.

Joint pain and stiffness are hallmark symptoms of RA and are often worse in the morning upon waking. Many people report that morning stiffness from RA is debilitating and disabling.

But what can be done about it?

Rheumatologists wanted to know if current and recently developed NSAIDs can reduce the severity of morning stiffness.

Researchers also wanted to know how much of an impact morning stiffness had on the lives of people living with RA.

One clinical study showed that more than two-thirds of those with RA experienced stiffness in the morning. A quarter of these people experienced morning stiffness for at least an hour.

A different study found that half of those tested with RA had stiffness for more than an hour, according to a story in the Medical News Bulletin.

Yet another scientific study found that the duration of morning stiffness decreased in patients who’ve had RA for a longer period of time, according to the article.

Degree as well as duration

These studies on morning stiffness usually only measure the duration of stiffness.

They don’t often take into consideration the severity of pain or the degree of disability.

But morning stiffness can be disabling and may greatly impact quality of life.

One study of retirees who had rheumatoid arthritis concluded that most of them had been forced to stop working prior to the usual retirement age. Most of the study participants said that morning stiffness was a primary factor in the decision.

In a 2014 study, almost half of working people with RA said that morning stiffness negatively affects their work life and job performance. A third stated that morning stiffness sometimes would cause them to be late for work or miss work completely.

But those with RA who take NSAIDs and those who take targeted biologics could possibly see a reduction in morning stiffness.

Disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs and steroids can also help reduce morning stiffness from RA but aren’t usually a long-term solution.

What the people say

People with RA who spoke to Healthline seem to have mixed results when it comes to taking anti-inflammatory drugs for morning stiffness.

“I take Motrin every day. It helps with inflammation. I can tell a difference when I don’t take it,” said Sonja Adkins Wood, 42, a Michigan resident who’s had RA for 24 years.

“I’ve taken Celebrex for years and frequently try to go off it. My body tells me no. I recently ran out and took two Aleve when I started to feel it and it was better than nothing,” said Luanna Baughman, 47, a Florida resident who received her RA diagnosis 15 years ago.

“I take ibuprofen. It does help with my RA pain and stiffness. I’m 41 and have RA, lupus, fibro[myalgia], osteoarthritis, and degenerative disc disease among a few others. It helps,” added Jessica D. Rowe.

Other patients mentioned topical ointment NSAIDs such as diclofenac as a source of relief for morning pain and stiffness.

It’s important to note that this recent review looked at all kinds of anti-inflammatory medications.

While NSAIDs were a part of the research, the rheumatologist conducting the review also looked at steroids and targeted biologic therapies as sources of relief for morning stiffness and inflammation.