Many arthritis sufferers complain of a little stiffness in the morning. Then there’s Jane Kowalski,* an 83-year-old living in Baltimore. She often woke up feeling like her joints had been dipped in cement. On some mornings, she couldn’t even get out of bed without help.
Now Kowalski has a new way to start the day. Instead of lying there helpless, she takes the time to stretch all of her muscles before she even gets out of bed. Her morning stretches help keep her joints flexible and functional. They also provide the perfect warm-up for her other morning exercises, which include lifting weights. She never skips her stretches, even on days when her joints don’t feel like cooperating. “I do the best I can,” she says. “Sometimes it hurts, but I loosen up as I go.”
Why is stretching good for your body?
Stretching should be part of every arthritis patient’s daily routine, says Barbara Resnick, PhD, a nurse practitioner with the University of Maryland School of Nursing. A good stretch accomplishes two things.
First, it helps prevent injuries by warming up muscles and tendons. Warm muscles are more limber and less likely to tear. Although the value of stretching to prevent injury has been challenged in two recent studies, the Arthritis Foundation strongly supports stretching as a tool for sufferers.
“Stretching is a must before any exercise,” Resnick says.
Stretching is also a perfect antidote to stiffness. A good stretch every day helps keep joints flexible enough to bend, twist, and do just about anything else asked of them, she says.
However, Resnick cautions that rheumatoid arthritis sufferers should give their sore joints a rest during flare-ups. Even a mild stretch could further inflame the joint.
When done properly, stretches are slow, gentle, and easy. People with arthritis shouldn’t bounce during a stretch or push to the point of extreme pain, Resnick says.
She recommends stretching until you feel mild discomfort, holding the stretch for 10 to 30 seconds, and