Feel like the Tin Man in the morning with your rusty, rigid joints? You're not alone. Many people wake up with stiff joints, and the knees are among the hardest hit.
"The knees are typically stiffer than other joints when waking up because we sleep in a fixed position [without any active bending or straightening]," says Sam Becourtney, DPT, CSCS, a New York-based physical therapist and certified sports and conditioning specialist at Bespoke Treatments.
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"Compare this to the hip or shoulder joint, for example, which are ball-and-socket joints that can have a lot more movement in multiple planes when simply rolling over in bed," Becourtney explains.
Fortunately, doing some morning knee stretches can help grease your creaky joints. Morning stretches temporarily increase the range of motion and flexibility of your muscles that attach to the knee joint (aka, the hamstrings and the quadriceps), Becourtney says.
So, the next time you wake up with stiff knees in the morning, try the five following knee stretches — you can even do them right in bed! Then you'll be ready to get up and take your day in stride.
Move 1: Hamstring Stretch
- Lie on your back.
- Keep your right leg straight out in front of you and grab your left leg with both hands behind the thigh with that knee bent to 90 degrees.
- Dynamically kick your left foot up toward the ceiling (i.e. straighten the leg as best you can) and hold for 5 seconds.
- Lower it back down to the starting position.
- Repeat 3 to 5 times while keeping your hip at about 90 degrees of hip flexion, then switch legs.
Relieve tightness in your hamstrings and the back of your knee with this dynamic stretch. Plus, it helps with lower back/sciatica pain, Becourtney says.
Move 2: Prone Quad Stretch
- Lie on your stomach with your legs straight.
- Bend your right knee enough until you can grab your right foot/ankle with your right hand and give it a gentle pull toward your butt to feel a stretch in the front of the thigh. You can use a belt or strap if you’re unable to reach your ankle with your hand.
- Hold the stretch for 5 to 10 seconds, then repeat 3 to 5 times before switching legs.
You'll feel a great stretch not only in your quads but also in your hip flexors and the other thigh muscles, Becourtney says.
Move 3: Bretzel Stretch
- Lie on your left side with both knees bent.
- Hold your right (top) knee down to the ground with your left hand and grab the bottom of your left foot with your right hand, gently pulling the left foot toward your butt.
- Gently rotate your torso towards the right, so that your back is as flat to the ground (or bed) as is comfortable.
- Maintain this position for 20 to 30 seconds. Repeat 2 to 3 times, then switch sides.
This deep quad stretch also involves a trunk rotation and works both sides of the body simultaneously, Becourtney says.
Move 4: Long-Sitting Calf Stretch
- Sit upright with both legs straight out in front of you.
- Loop a towel, belt or strap around the ball of your left foot with your knee extended and gently pull, bringing the left toes toward you until you feel a stretch in the back of your lower leg/behind the knee.
- Hold for 10 to 15 seconds. Repeat 3 to 5 times, then switch legs.
Sometimes, you might wake up with stiffness in the back of your knees. This movement stretches the back of the knee, and can also help alleviate foot/plantar fascia pain, Becourtney says.
Move 5: Knee Hug
- Lie on your back.
- Bend your left knee and hug it to your chest with both hands while keeping your right leg straight.
- Hold for 5 seconds, then repeat 4 to 5 times before switching legs.
By flexing at the hip and knee simultaneously, this stretch provides dynamic mobility for both the hip and knee joints, Becourtney says.