Why do I feel so stiff and sore in the morning?

How to combat morning stiffness

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S.A.C. Dip (Diet, Exercise & Fitness), Advanced Human Anatomy & Physiology Level 3
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29 October 2018

Lousy sleeping position

Sleeping often involves lying in slightly awkward positions held for long periods of time throughout the night. Your sleeping position can cause sustained compression, pinching, oxygen starvation of tissues and decreased blood flow to your muscles. This in turn can result in a build-up of lactic acid which causes stiffness when you wake up the next morning.

Health condition

If you have a musculoskeletal condition such as arthritis, odds are this will affect how stiff you feel when you get up in the morning. Arthritis often causes swelling and inflammation of the joints first thing in the morning and it can occur in any joint in the body.


Inactive muscles and joints will most definitely be more likely to experience morning stiffness than those who exercise regularly. This is because the muscles and joints are not regularly stretching, being strengthened, or circulating that important synovial fluid to keep the joints nice and lubricated. So, partaking in an activity that usually requires 8 hours of uninterrupted stillness will put your muscles and joints through their paces and you are likely to wake feeling stiffer in the morning, which will gradually ease off throughout the day.


Our bodies repress inflammation when we sleep which can result in worse pain when we wake up in the morning as the inflammation ‘switches back on’. Research has found that exposure to constant light results in higher inflammatory markers than in the darkness, indicating that our circadian rhythms (our internal clock that tells us when to go to sleep and when to get up again) have a role to play in modulating our pain.1


As your joints get older, your cartilage (a firm connective tissue found in many areas of the body including the joints between bones) begins to stiffen and dry out. What’s more, the joint lining produces less synovial fluid which is responsible for lubricating the joint. As a result, this can cause stiffness and tightening during sleep which can make weak muscles and stiff tendons feel worse.

What can you do to manage morning stiffness?

1) Stretch it out

Stretching helps to boost your circulation and get your synovial fluid moving again to lubricate the muscles which will help to ease off morning stiffness. Usually, when it comes to morning stiffness, the number one complaint is back pain - for more information on why this is, you may wish to investigate my blog ‘Why is my back pain worse in the morning?’ A stretch called cat/cow is a fantastic way to combat this morning stiffness and get bodily fluids circulating throughout the body.

How to do cat/cow pose:

Come onto your hands and knees ensuring that your wrists are directly underneath your shoulders and that you knees are in line with your hips. On an exhale, starting at the tailbone at the base of the spine, gently arch your back – only as far as feels comfortable – and let your chin drop in towards your chest. 

On your inhale, again starting at the tailbone, begin to tilt your pelvis in the opposite direction, dipping your tummy towards the ground and bringing your gaze to face straight ahead. Repeat this several times to feel the maximum benefits. If you have knee pain please pad up with a towel or pillow underneath to protect those all-important joints!

2) A warm shower

This is another good one for improving circulation as a warm shower helps to dilate the blood vessels, relax muscle spasms and release any tension in the muscles. 


3) Atrosan 

Normally when we experience muscle or joint pain our first instinct is to pop a pain killer for some instant relief, but how about swapping your conventional pain killer for a more natural and friendly alternative? Atrosan is a natural herbal remedy licensed for the relief of muscle and joint pain. This remedy helps to relieve inflammation without any of the nasty side effects that can crop up with conventional pain killers.


4) A hearty breakfast

Did you know that you can eat away your muscle and joint pain? A good nutritious breakfast can do wonders in supporting the health of your muscles and joints. Try to include muscle-friendly nutrients like magnesium in your breakfast to help supply your body with the nutrients it needs to relieve the morning aches. Find out what foods can help and what foods can hinder your muscle and joint pain here.


5) The anti-nap

If you struggle to stay asleep throughout the full night and experience morning pain and stiffness, the anti-nap could be for you! We often say that you shouldn’t sit for long periods of time without a break and that you should get up and walk about before returning to your seated position. Well, the same goes for when you sleep, so rather than tossing and turning and trying to force yourself to get back to sleep when you’re too uncomfortable, get up and take a break.

From an evolutionary perspective, we aren’t designed to sleep throughout the entire night, our sleep cycles were designed in stages of deeps sleep surrounded by intervals of shallower sleep. These lighter stages of sleep helped us to scan for danger and are historically beneficial to our survival. 


1  https://www.prevention.com/health/this-is-why-everything-hurts-in-the-morning-according-to-science 


Originally written on 22/02/2018, updated on 29/10/2018.

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