Morning joint pain or stiffness is a common complaint for individuals with rheumatic disease. My patients often ask me, “Is there anything that I can do to help myself? Or do I just have to live with it?” The answer to both questions is yes, but let me explain:

A good night’s sleep and quality rest are essential for good health. However, as we age, a common complaint in the morning comes in our feet for the first few steps, then our knees and hips as we travel to the bathroom, then our hands as we open doors. Inactivity for 6-8 hours while resting is the culprit for morning stiffness and pain. However, these morning aches and stiffness signs can be managed by performing some simple tasks and active exercises each morning. Remember, activity is the best treatment for joint stiffness and tightness. Inactivity promotes stiffness and joint tightness.

To help manage your pain, try these warm-up exercises each morning:

Before Getting Out of Bed

  1. Stretch your feet and ankles first for three to five repetitions. While lying flat on your back with a pillow under your knees, straighten both knees. Start by curling all of your toes, then extend all of your toes. Relax. Next, make foot circles with both ankles, first clockwise and then counterclockwise.
  2. Stretch your knees and hips for three to five repetitions. Alternately bend each hip toward your chest and follow by extending your knee and then lowering your straight leg to the bed. With your knees and hips straight, contract both thigh muscles. Then while holding your thigh muscles, contract both buttocks muscles as well. Hold for three seconds and then relax before starting the next muscle setting exercise.
  3. Stretch your shoulder and hands. Sit at the bedside and pull shoulders back and keep your head high. Bring your hands together at waist height and place your palms together with your fingers facing upward. Press your palms together, then move both hands toward the ceiling. Repeat three to five times.
  4. Stretch your fingers by holding your hands waist high, then flex and bend your fingers by making a complete fist and bringing your fingertips to your palms. Follow this by extending and straightening all of your fingers. Repeat three to five times.
  5. Finish with breathing exercises. While sitting up tall, breathe in through your nose, holding for two seconds. Follow this by exhaling through your pursed lips for two seconds. Repeat twice.

These are warm up exercises aimed at shortening and decreasing the morning stiffness you experience. Give them a try and remember, exercise and regular movement is better for you than sitting for extended periods of time.

Here are a few other suggestions to help keeping morning pain at bay:

  • Use slippers or shoes with cushioned soles and avoid walking bare footed or in socks.
  • Enjoy a warm shower, turning your head in all directions. Look left then right.
  • Exercise! Experts believe regular exercise and walking activities promote fitness and are advised if you have a rheumatic disease, like rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis or other rheumatic conditions.
  • You may also want more counseling by seeing your local physical therapist to tailor an individual program just for you!


Robert W. Richardson, PT, MEd, FAPTARobert (Bob) W. Richardson, PT, MEd, FAPTA, is a graduate of the University of Pittsburgh and has practiced and taught in the field of rheumatology at St. Margaret Memorial Medical Center in Pittsburgh, and at Duke Lifepoint Health in Henderson, NC. He has served on the faculty in the Physical Therapy Schools at Slippery Rock and Duke Universities. Bob is a past president of the ACR’s Association of Rheumatology Professionals and a past president of the American Physical Therapy Association.