“I just wake up so stiff”, “It’s hard to touch my toes in the morning”, “This cold weather makes me feel like the Tin Man!”
As a Physical Therapist, I hear complaints like this every day. During the cold winter months, stiffness or lack of mobility throughout the body is much more problematic. During the winter months, the cold weather tends to constrict our blood vessels and redirect our blood away from our muscles and to our centrally located organs in order to keep us warm. This decrease in blood flow to our muscles combined with the lack of movement throughout the night while sleeping is a recipe for one thing… feeling stiff!
One of the best ways to combat this tight and stiff feeling in the morning is to encompass a few easy and simple stretches that can help loosen you up from head to toe. Stretching regularly has many health benefits. Stretching can help increase your range of motion, prepare your muscles and joints for physical activity, increase muscle tone and definition, relieve physical stress, and improve your body’s innate ability to heal any existing injuries. Below are 5 of the best stretches to get you feeling and looking your best!
Counter Stretch: This stretch will help to loosen all the structures on the back of the body from the shoulders down to the calves.
To perform: This stretch can easily be done with the assistance of a sink or counter. Begin with both hands on the counter with your palms facing downward and shoulder width apart. Slowly walk your feet backwards till they are under your hips, from this position press your chest towards the floor until they are parallel. Hold this stretch for 10 seconds and return to the starting position, repeat 10 times.
Standing Quadriceps Stretch: This stretch will aid in increasing the length of the muscles on the front of your thigh (quadriceps) which are a major contributor to knee function and dysfunction.
To perform: Stand nice and tall next to a surface that is about waist level. This will enable you to lean on something for support if you feel your balance is being challenged. Bend your knee and reach down with the same side arm to grab the top of your foot, gently pull your foot as close as possible towards the back of your leg. Hold this position for 20-30 seconds and relax, repeat 2-3 times per side. TIP: Try to not let your knee come in front of your hips by squeezing your butt muscles together.
Supine Frog: Supine frog is an excellent stretch to open the hips and stretch the muscles on the inside of the thighs.
To perform: lie on back with knees bent and feet together resting comfortably on the floor. Once in this position allow knees to open as wide as possible all while maintaining feet together position. Hold this position for 1-2 minutes and allow gravity to do all the work! Repeat 1 time.
Child’s pose: this stretch is a very popular yoga stretch and with good reason, it effectively opens your spine and stretches all the muscles in the lower back which tend to take a beating in our daily lives. The best part is it is extremely simple to perform and very gentle!
To perform: start on all fours, with hands directly under your shoulders and knees under your hips. Now gently drop your butt towards your heels until you are essentially sitting on your calves. Reach your arms forward, take a deep breath in and out and relax your arms. Stay in this position for 20-30 seconds and repeat 2-3 times.
Seated Piriformis Stretch: this stretch is excellent for improving motion in your hips, as well as stretching the piriformis muscle. This muscle is tight in a majority of people and has the ability to contribute to low back pain as well as other painful conditions.
To perform: sit in a chair with a nice erect posture. Place your right leg on your left and gently apply pressure to the right knee until a stretch is felt in the right hip. Hold this stretch for 20-30 seconds and repeat 2-3 times per side.
So the next time you wake up feeling cold and stiff, try a few of these great stretches to help you warm up and get going!
Dr. Jeremy L. Cohen PT, DPT PES is the Owner/Director of Physical Therapy and Performance Enhancement Specialist at Mindful Movement Physical Therapy in Staten Island, New York.