For many people with arthritis, morning is the most difficult part of the day. Waking up with stiff joints or joint pain is a common complaint. Although it may seem like the hardest time of day to get moving, doing a few stretches in the morning can give you a more limber start to your day.
It only takes a few minutes to stretch and warm up your muscles and joints. But for the best results, the key is to do arthritis stretches every day. Taking a warm shower before or after stretching can also help you feel more flexible and limber.
WebMD asked experts Matt Hyland, PT, PhD, MPA, CSCS, president of the New York Physical Therapy Association, and Sharon Kolasinski, MD, associate professor of clinical medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, for stretching tips for people with arthritis. Here's what they said.
Stretches for Arthritis in the Back, Hips, and Knees
These three basic stretches will help loosen your back, hip, and knee joints. You can do all three of these stretches right in bed. Or, if you prefer, you can do them on the floor. These stretches should be gentle enough for everyone -- including people who have had knee or hip surgery. But if you have any questions, ask your doctor.
Hamstring stretch: Lie on your back with your left knee bent and your left foot flat on the bed. Bend your right leg and place your hands behind your right thigh. Lift your right leg into the air and straighten it as much as you can, using your hands to gently pull your leg toward your chest. Hold for about 30 seconds and then slowly release. You should feel the stretch in your lower back and the back of your leg. Repeat this stretch on the left leg and then repeat 2 to 3 times on both sides.
Single knee to chest stretch: Lie on your back and bend both knees. Your feet should be flat on the bed. Take hold of your right knee with both hands and gently pull the knee toward your chest. You should feel a stretch in the back of your leg and lower back. Hold for about 30 seconds and then slowly release. Repeat this same stretch with the left knee and then repeat 2 to 3 times on both sides.
Piriformis stretch: Lie on your back with both knees bent and your feet flat on the bed. Cross your right ankle on top of your left knee. Wrap your hands behind your left knee and gently pull your knee toward your chest. You should feel a stretch in the back of your right leg. Hold this stretch for about 30 seconds and then slowly release. Change sides and repeat this stretch with your left leg crossed on top of your right knee. Repeat 2 or 3 times on both sides.
Stretches for Arthritis in the Arms, Shoulders, and Neck
These three basic stretches are a good way to loosen the joints of your upper body. You can do the first stretch in bed, but you’ll need to do the last two stretches while you’re standing.
Serratus punch: Lie flat on your back with your head on a pillow. Bend your knees if this feels better for your back. Raise both arms in the air, toward the ceiling with your palms facing each other. Keeping your head on the pillow and your arms straight, raise your shoulder blades off of the bed, as if you’re trying to touch the ceiling. Hold this stretch for about 30 seconds and then slowly release. Repeat 2 to 3 times.
Corner stretch: This stretch can be done either in a corner or in an open doorway. Stand about 2 feet away from the corner or doorway. Place your hands at shoulder height on either side of the wall or doorway. Bending your elbows, lean your body weight into the corner or open doorway. You should feel this stretch across the front of your shoulders and chest. Hold this stretch for about 30 seconds and then slowly release. Repeat 2 to 3 times.
Posterior shoulder and back stretch: Stand straight with both arms at your sides. Gently bring your right arm across your chest, keeping it straight. Take hold of your right elbow with your left hand and gently stretch your right arm across your body. You should feel this stretch in the upper arm and shoulder. Hold this stretch for about 30 seconds and then slowly release. Repeat with the left arm and then repeat 2 to 3 times on both sides.
Stretches for Arthritis in the Hands
If your hands are affected by arthritis, these simple and easy stretches can help loosen up your joints and help increase mobility.
Towel squeeze: This stretch can be done with a small hand towel that is rolled up or a large sponge. Take the towel or sponge in one hand and squeeze. Hold for 5 seconds and then relax. Repeat 10 to 15 times with both hands.
Finger extension: Take a rubber band and wrap it around all five fingers just below your fingertips. Gently spread your fingers apart as far as you can. Hold this stretch for about 5 seconds then release. Repeat 10 times with each hand.
Remember that though you should feel a slight pulling sensation or discomfort while stretching, the stretch should never hurt. If you feel any pain while stretching, talk with your doctor.