As many of you will know, getting out of bed, particularly in winter, can be a bit of a challenge if you’re living with arthritis.
In search of a few pointers about how best to shake off early morning stiffness and soreness, Flexiseq sat down with David Vaux, a registered osteopath and therapies manager at Arthritis Action.
Why Are Arthritic Joints Always Stiff In The Morning?
While your body is at rest, it’s working hard to repair itself. If you have an injury, your body will try to heal itself by pushing fluid to the affected area.
The fluid contains healing elements, but too much fluid retention can result in painful swelling. “It's a bit of a catch-22,” says David, “the fluid is there to help you, but unfortunately that fluid can give you swollen joints which feel stiff and painful.”
David recommends a simple routine which you can do in bed to warm up your body for the day, “a simple mobilisation routine in the morning is in effect warming you up.”
Simple Exercises To Do In Bed When You Have Arthritis
“I have arthritis of the spine myself,” David says, “and I find a simple rotation of the knees before and after going to bed works for myself and my patients.” Finding the right exercise for your specific joint can be key in helping to get that joint moving in the morning.
David continues, “Lie flat on your back in bed, keeping the small of your back in contact with the bed to keep your spine neutral. Keep your feet flat on the bed, slowly bend your knees and gently rock them from left to right.”
“Once you’ve done that for two to three minutes, you can bring one knee up with your hands on the knee. Keep your knee at a right angle and make gentle circular movements with one knee before repeating the movement on the other. This can be done very slowly.”
“You could then bring both knees up at the same time, keeping your hands on your knees if possible, while you move in a very gentle figure of eight or shallow rocking motion. This can localise the lower back and loosen it up.”
If you have any doubts about this exercise, consult your GP, osteopath or physiotherapist.
How To Get Moving While Sitting Down
You don’t need to be moving around to improve your fitness. “You can put a yoga ball between your knees, squeeze and release it for 30 seconds,” says David, “or you can put a band around the knees, stretch your legs apart, hold and relax for 30 seconds.” Finding simple exercises like this to do at home, first thing in the morning or at any time your joints feel stiff can be the first step in getting those joints moving and combating arthritis in them.
If your back tends to seize up when you’re sitting down, something as simple as a tennis ball could help relieve the tension. “Simply put it into the small of your back and very gently put a bit of backwards pressure on it,” David says, “this can relieve tension in the glutes and the lower back.”
Get Moving In The Water
“If you think of the nervous system as a radar, then anything that comes up is your body sensing pain, strain or fear,” adds David, “if you have an exercise regime that makes you feel happy and comfortable, it will help bring the sensitivity of your nervous system down.”
“Being in water is very beneficial. Even if you're just walking up and down in the water, you can probably do more in a swimming pool then you can on land. The more you send a message to your nervous system saying ‘look, I'm moving and I'm not in pain’ the better.”
Speaking of water, many people find having a warm shower or bath is a great way to get their stiff joints moving in the morning. David points out: "It's very individual. Try something. If it works for you, stick with it."
Keep Moving Throughout The Day
“A diagnosis of arthritis is often seen as a message that you will not exercise again,” says David, “but Arthritis Action believes the opposite. When you have pain in a joint and you avoid exercise, the joint becomes weaker. Evidence now suggests that a weaker joint has more pain.”
“It's a vicious circle because if you have more pain you exercise less,” he continues, “but if you've got long term pain in any joint, it doesn't necessarily mean you can't exercise with it. Pain isn't always a sign that more damage is being done to a joint.
“If you try to exercise and the pain goes up, pace yourself. Take a break and try again in a few days.”
Doing anything that you enjoy, as long as it involves some movement, can be beneficial. This includes attending a cooking class, joining a choir, or going for a walk.
You are the expert when it comes to your body, so listen to it. Keep to a pace that you are comfortable with, rest and take breaks whenever you need to, and consult a professional if you are unsure about anything. For more exercise tips, see Arthritis Action’s exercise guide.