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How to Manage Morning Stiffness

Mar 26, 2022

Have you ever wondered why our instinct in the morning is to stretch before getting out of bed? Or noticed that you wake up feeling stiff and out of sorts? This is a common phenomenon as the body adjusts from being relatively still to moving again. Stiffness usually subsides over the first few moments of your day without any intervention needed, but if it lasts a long time, it could be a sign that you need physical therapy for an underlying issue. We’ll cover how to manage your stiffness in the morning and what to do if these remedies don’t work.

Why Do I Wake Up Stiff In the Morning?

A little bit of stiffness when you wake up is normal, especially if you are still in your sleep or sleep in an odd position. The lack of movement can make your joints stiff, and as you move around, they re-lubricate and go back to functioning normally. But if this stiffness is severe or lasts well into your day, it can be a sign of certain conditions or injuries.

The condition most commonly associated with morning stiffness is arthritis. There are hundreds of forms of arthritis, all related to inflammation in the joints. Osteoarthritis is the form people often develop as they age, though stiffness can also be a sign of other forms such as rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, and ankylosing spondylitis.

Osteoarthritis and age are common culprits, as age causes the cartilage that normally cushions your joints to dry out, making less of the synovial fluid that adds lubrication. This can make it more difficult to move the joints, leading to stiffness and soreness. You may hear this called “morning gel” because your joints stiffen, like gelatin, when inactive for several hours.

In other types of arthritis, inflammation is the trigger for morning stiffness. For those with osteoarthritis, the stiffness is usually gone within minutes of moving, while inflammatory arthritis can cause stiffness that lasts for hours.

Along with arthritis, other conditions can contribute to frequent morning stiffness, such as:

  1. Thyroid disease
  2. Vitamin D deficiency
  3. Fibromyalgia
  4. Obesity

It is also possible to be stiff in the morning due to something like a mattress with no support or sleeping in an uncomfortable position, though this will usually be sporadic rather than frequent.

Ways to Manage Morning Stiffness

Depending on the severity of your stiffness, it may make it difficult to get out of bed and perform normal daily activities. Even though moving often eases the symptoms, it can feel impossible to take these steps. One of the best things you can do is create a morning routine that reduces your stress and uncertainty and stick to it each morning. Below are some ways to manage stiffness and habits to incorporate into a routine.

Start Slow and Gentle

When you sit up in the morning, take a minute before you start moving. Move your stiff joints slowly and gently, avoiding pulling and stretching motions. Doing gentle circles and bending and extending the joints are helpful ways to loosen them without causing damage.

Try to move all joints, even those that are not stiff. You can start at the neck and move down the shoulders, wrists, elbows, and fingers before moving to your knees and ankles.

Targeted Stretches

Before you even leave the bed, targeted stretches can be used to take your gentle movement up to the next level. Focus on each joint independently, and hold a slow and mild stretch for 20-30 seconds a few times. This should never be painful, but if you are having trouble coming up with a routine that works, a physical therapist can help develop a program.

Heat Therapy

When you’re sore, heat is often a great option to loosen muscles and joints and ease stiffness. You can bring the comfort of heat to your bed by using a heated blanket or make the first thing you do each morning a warm bath to help your body get ready for the day.


It may feel like exercise is too hard or painful when you are suffering from joint stiffness, but even a few minutes of low-impact exercise can ease symptoms. Choose activities that focus on range of motion, where the joints are moved in different directions. A stationary bike is a great place to start, or a physical therapist can provide alternatives.


While it won’t address the underlying cause of your stiffness, medication can be a great way to help ease the symptoms enough to function for the day. Over-the-counter options like NSAIDs are a great first choice, but some people will need prescription-strength medication. You should always speak with a doctor before using any medication for pain management.

Another tip is to keep your medication, including any topical treatments, on your nightstand so you can take them first thing in the morning. Allowing the medication to begin working before standing up may be helpful.

Eat a Balanced Breakfast

Nutrition is a key component of a healthy body, and it starts with breakfast. A light and nutritious meal can give your body the energy needed to keep going. Rather than a mocha and a muffin, opt for an egg white omelet and freshly squeezed orange juice when possible. Keep up the healthy diet throughout the day as well, and make sure to drink lots of water to keep your body hydrated for better joint lubrication.

An anti-inflammatory diet may also be recommended when inflammation is one of the reasons you experience stiffness.

Adjust Your Schedule

While we call it morning stiffness, this problem is really stiffness that occurs after you have been asleep or immobile for a long time. If it’s possible, adjust your work schedule or daily tasks to give you more time in the morning to address symptoms or work from home when possible. Work may also be able to accommodate any conditions you have by offering ergonomic chairs and equipment and allowing you to take multiple breaks.

Occupational Therapy

Joints are sometimes put under pressure overnight that you can’t control. Some people close their fists tightly during sleep or clench their jaw, leading to tight joints and overworked muscles by morning. Occupational therapists will look for this type of issue and provide exercises or assistive devices to reduce this behavior overnight.

Preventing Morning Stiffness

Rather than managing pain and stiffness once it has occurred, it is preferable to create an environment and routine that prevent it from occurring in the first place. If you are at risk for stiffness or simply want to prevent it from occurring, you can implement certain activities from above, such as exercise and heat therapy, as well as other lifestyle changes.


Getting a deep and restful night of sleep can do wonders for your body and health. As you sleep deeply, your body refuels and produces substances you need, including the fluid that lubricates your joints. Healing agents in your body repair any issues while you sleep, so it is critical to get enough sleep for your body to do this and to feel rested in the morning.

Your Sleep Environment

The condition of your mattress and pillows can play a huge role in the quality of your sleep and how you feel in the morning. While everyone will have a different preference for firmness, a mattress should always be supportive and not too worn out. Pillows should also offer support and help to keep your spine in a neutral position. For those who sleep on their side or back, using a pillow under your knees or between them can be a great way to keep the body aligned while you rest.

When to See a Doctor

A day or two of feeling stiff in the morning is usually nothing to be concerned about. But if you are feeling stiff for more than three mornings in a row, it may be time to speak with a chiropractor or physical therapist. Even if you don’t have a serious underlying condition, they can assess your body’s alignment and determine if physical or occupational therapy would help your body stay more flexible throughout the evening. A doctor will also be able to evaluate you for underlying conditions like arthritis that could contribute to these issues, and catching them early will offer you a better outlook.

The team at AICA Atlanta is composed of chiropractors, physical therapists, and orthopedists who are able to assess your medical history and symptoms as a part of our personalized care plans. With this information, we will be able to create a treatment plan aimed not just at reducing your stiffness but addressing and healing the root cause of the problems. While there is no cure for something like arthritis, we are skilled at helping patients to maintain their quality of life and preventing the worsening of issues over time. Contact us today to stop morning stiffness, find answers, and begin looking forward to getting out of bed in the morning!


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