Stiff legs that are resistant to movement can slow you down, whether you're out for a run or just trying to get on with your day. Stiffness may also be accompanied by cramping, discomfort and muscle pain.
You might feel stiffness the most when you first get up after time spent sitting — as when driving in the car — or after a night of sleep. If stiffness is chronic or gets worse with time, see a doctor to rule out arthritis or another medical condition. Otherwise, use simple stretches, water therapy and other movement to relieve your stiff legs.
Stretching for Stiffness
Simple stretching alleviates stiffness experienced when you first get out of bed in the morning or after you've been sitting for a while. Yoga provides lots of options for gentle stretching of the legs. Sun Salutations and standing poses loosen you up and increase blood flow to your legs.
Perform three or four Sun Salutations first thing in the morning:
- Stand and raise your arms overhead
- Bend forward from your hips and touch your toes to stretch your hamstrings
- Put your hands on the floor and step your feet back into a plank
- Bend your elbows to lay your body on the floor
- Press your legs into the floor and your hands under your armpits as you gently lift your face and chest for Cobra
- Tuck your toes, push through your hands and reach your buttocks toward the ceiling for Downward-facing Dog
- Step your feet forward to return to the Forward Bend
- Rise up to complete one salutation
If you're not quite up to standing, try lying on your back and looping a strap around the bottom of one foot. Stretch that foot's leg up toward the ceiling as you apply gentle pressure to the strap to stretch your leg and hip.
Many of these stretches can be done anytime during the day — close your office door and do a few after you've been on the computer for a while, for example.
You may find relief from chronic stiffness in your legs by spending some time in water. If you have access to a pool, do 10 to 15 minutes of simple walking laps in waist- or chest-deep water to loosen up stiff muscles.
A heated whirlpool provides the buoyancy of water and the healing power of heat. A study published in the Journal of Physical Therapy Science in 2013 found that patients with chronic knee osteoarthritis experienced relief from stiffness after immersion of their legs in a whirlpool bath. You don't have to suffer from arthritis to benefit from the loosening effects of massaging jets and warm water.
If you don't have access to a whirlpool, take a warm bath at home. Throw in a cup or two of Epsom salts for extra help relaxing. The salts boost your magnesium levels, decrease stress and reduce pain and inflammation.
Walk It Off
When your legs are stiff, you might feel like staying put. But, simple movement, such as a slow walk, increases circulation, reduces inflammation and improves flexibility.
If you live a largely sedentary lifestyle, start with just a 10-minute walks once or twice per day. Work your way up to longer walks of 30 minutes or longer on most days.
People who work a desk job, should aim to walk around every hour — even for just 5 minutes at a time — to relieve stiffness. Walk to the copier and deliver messages to your colleagues in person, rather than by text or email.