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Stretch your way out of morning stiffness and pain


Last updated 7/20/2006 at Noon

When you first get out of bed in the morning, are you stiff, sore or rigid? Are your bones popping and snapping, your neck creaking? Do your nighttime trips to the bathroom feel more like tryouts for a Frankenstein movie? You’re not alone. As we age, we tend to feel stiff in the morning or after sitting in one position for too long. So why do some of us experience stiffness in the morning while others bounce out of bed like kids?

Could you be sleeping in a way that causes stiffness?

The answer is yes! Just as moving constantly deprives us of restful sleep, not enough moving through the night is a common cause of morning stiffness. Have you ever watched children, dogs or cats sleeping? Have you noticed how often they change position? My cat changes her position about every 30 minutes or so. Several of my clients who complain of pain and stiffness in the morning have “trained” themselves not to move while they are sleeping. This is just unnatural.

Did you know that all mammals stretch before and right after rising from sleep… except adult humans who live in Western cultures? I was reading a handout from a major drug-store pharmacy on back pain. It reported that most back spasms occur within the first hour of waking and are attributed to lack of stretching. Children, even small babies, stretch upon awakening. The last time I held a small baby, I was amazed at how the baby systematically stretched every muscle in every possible direction. In our culture, as people reach adulthood, they don’t stretch as often as they should. And some adults have completely forgotten how good it feels to stretch.

So let’s start stretching.

Upon awakening in the morning, before you get out of bed, begin to stretch. Stretch as you yawn (yawning is also an important part of the waking-up ritual). Breathe deeply into your belly. You are preparing the muscles for movement before taking those first few steps. The goal of stretching is to increase circulation to the heart, limbs and large muscles that support you. Stretching will help you begin your day with greater flexibility and ease of movement.

Initially, just do what feels good. As you begin to get into the habit of stretching, you’ll stretch more. Some people prefer to stretch after they get out of bed as part of an exercise routine or as they shower. But this kind of stretching is best when it’s a spontaneous extension of your first waking moments.

So, how do you know what to stretch first? It depends on what position you’ve been sleeping in. If you’re sleeping on your side in a fetal position with legs bent and head forward, you’ll probably want to first stretch out by straightening the legs and perhaps taking your arms overhead, maybe even rolling onto your back or stomach. If you wake up on your back, you might want to roll to the side and stretch.

By doing what feels natural, over time stretching will again become spontaneous and you’ll be rolling forward and back, side to side, even stretching diagonally. And you’ll be pleasantly surprised how good it feels. Now your body will be conditioned to transition from lying down to getting up and walking around with ease and comfort. Getting out of bed feeling refreshed, without aches and stiffness, will be a pleasant reminder to keep stretching.

Judy Killeen, a teacher trained in movement education, helps clients become aware of activities that cause injuries so they can avoid pain and limitations.

Copyright 2005, Judy Killeen


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