Waking up in the morning can be hard enough. Stiff and sore joints can make it even more difficult to get out of bed. Literally.
Although one might think that sore joints and muscles come only with ageing, that’s not necessarily the case. In fact, old age alone does not cause morning joint stiffness. Rather, morning stiffness is typically an indication of wore joints, muscle tightness, or inflammation from arthritis, according to Harvard Medical School.
Worn joints are not just for the elderly. Younger people can wear down their joints, specifically the intermediary cartilage, through normal wear and tear.
As Harvard Medical School points out, there are a few reasons why your joints feel sore in the morning:
- As your joints get older, the spongy cushion of cartilage begins to dry out and stiffen;
- The joint lining produces less synovial fluid, which lubricates the joint;
- Weak muscles and stiff tendons tighten during sleep;
- Osteoarthritis, which can be caused by wear and tear, and rheumatoid arthritis both can trigger morning stiffness;
- Too much – or too little – exercise.
To combat the problem, and to ensure your aches and pains don’t last more than 10-15 minutes in the morning, you can incorporate foot exercises into your morning routine. This will help warm up your muscles and increase blood flow. Movement helps lubricate joints, so by starting your day off with some simple exercises and stretches, you can combat the late-day tightness and soreness.
Start slow. When you wake up, begin by wiggling your toes and working your way up your legs to activate the muscles. Then, you can incorporate the following morning foot exercises to start the day off right.
While still in bed, sit up and with your legs straight out in front of you, bring your toes towards your body, and then away. Use a towel to keep your foot stretched while your toes are towards you, and use the towel as a source of resistance when pointing your toes away from your body. Hold for 20-30 seconds and repeat 3-5 times. Then, switch sides.
This activates the Achilles tendon, your hamstrings, as well as the plantar fascia.
Alternatively, you can skip using the towel and stretch your Achilles tendon and plantar fascia in the same way as you would with a towel.
While sitting on the edge of the bed, cross one leg over the other and stretch out your toes. Grasp them and stretch them upwards, and then down. You can do this for 20-30 seconds, and repeat 3-5 times before switching.
There is also additional benefit from increased flexibility in your toes through these stretches. Targeting your toes can be particularly beneficial for people with bone spurs and hallux rigidus who have little to no flexibility in their big toe.
Or, if you have trouble with your bunion, these five simple exercises may benefit you for the entire day let alone in the morning.
One great way to activate your feet in the morning is to use a foam roller or tennis ball.
Foam rolling involves using a foam roller as a method of release. By using your own body weight, the method is simple, effective, and low-cost. Foam rolling is a great injury prevention method and can leave your muscles feeling refreshed afterwards.
Specifically, foam rolling targets pain and discomfort that comes from the myofascial tissue—the tough, but thin membranes that cover and surround your muscles.
Foam rolling can be tricky at first, but you can get the hang of it pretty quickly. Using your body weight, position the foam roller about two-thirds to the bottom of your body, or to wherever on your legs you want to target. Then, roll slowly and gently back and forth and pause on particularly tight spots.
You can also roll with a tennis ball in a much easier way. While sitting on the edge of your bed, place a tennis ball (or lacrosse ball) under your foot and slowly roll the ball in various directions. Keep moderate pressure on the ball so you feel some massaging of your plantar, heel, and ball of your foot.
Read more about the techniques and 101 in our foam rolling 101 post.
You can do this exercise sitting down, or standing up!
The sitting version involves wrapping one end of the resistance band around your foot, and holding the non-looped end with your hand. Pull to create some tension, and plant your heel into the ground. Then, move your foot outwards, inwards, away, and towards you while fighting the tension. Do this 5-10 times each way, and then move on to the other foot.
The standing version is more of a complete warm-up for many of the muscle groups in your legs. Wrap a resistance band around your knees and bend down into a quarter-squat. Then move side-to-side in a slow, smooth motion and repeat 5-10 times. Then, instead of moving side-to-side, move forward diagonally, and then to the side, and then backwards diagonally. You should be moving in an “X” shape. This morning foot exercise particularly activates your hips.
Remember, for all of these morning foot exercises, focus on slow, smooth movements as your body begins to wake up in the morning. The goal is to activate the muscles and to build strength through resistance. Never try to stretch through pain, or strengthen your way out of an injury.