Mornings can be a challenge. Some of us are naturally morning people, while others are night owls. Regardless of our natural inclinations, one thing is fairly universal as we get older: morning stiffness.
The stiffness in our muscles and joints after sleeping is often due to inflammation-causing them to tighten up while we are relatively still overnight. Even if you are a restless sleeper, you don’t move nearly as much overnight as you do throughout the day.
This underlying inflammation may be due to a number of issues, including weakness in the muscles and/or arthritis in the joints.
There are many strategies and exercises you can use to prevent or lessen morning stiffness. A physiotherapist can evaluate your situation and teach you methods that meet your individual needs best.
However, there are some simple solutions that can often provide relief if you wake up and feel like you need a can of WD-40 to get moving. Here are three of my favourite solutions for morning stiffness.
Difficulty with gripping and other activities requiring dexterity in your hands can make it difficult to get through your morning routine. These symptoms can be improved by doing range-of-motion exercises in a warm water bath.
I often suggest placing the hands in a bathroom sink filled with warm water for about five minutes. While in the water, gently open and close your fist and wiggle your fingers around. This can be very helpful for hands that are stiff due to osteoarthritis.
Knees and hips
Stiffness in the knees and hips can make walking and using stairs difficult in the morning. An easy trick is to do gentle range-of-motion exercises before you get out of bed.
Lie on your back with your knees bent. Slide one heel down and out toward the end of the bed and then bring it back up to you. Repeat this 10 to 20 times on each side to get the hip and knee joints moving and stimulate circulation in the soft tissues.
These movements should not be painful, but may feel tight and should improve as you continue to repeat the movement.
A simple knee-to-chest stretch while on your back can be helpful if you find it difficult to bend forward to get your socks and shoes on. If you have low bone density (i.e. osteoporosis), you should consult with your physiotherapist before starting this stretch.
One of the best solutions for lower-back morning stiffness is to limit it by sleeping on your side with a pillow between your knees. This position will keep your spine in a more neutral position and potentially reduce inflammation in the spinal joints overnight.
Remember, although morning stiffness is very common, it is not necessarily inevitable. If you’re struggling to get moving at the start of your day, talk to a physiotherapist about the solutions that will work best for you.