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Stretching Can Ease Morning Aches and Pains

Stretching is one of the easiest ways to eliminate or lessen pain, especially after a rough night’s sleep.

A new book by stretching expert Kristian Berg explains how morning aches and pains can be avoided by doing a few simple movements several times throughout the day. In Prescriptive Stretching (Human Kinetics, 2011), Berg says sleep-depriving pain often isn’t detected until the following morning.

“If it feels as if somebody has hit you over the head with a baseball bat or tried to break your back, your sleeping posture is probably working against you,” he explains. Waking up with a headache is the first sign that something is awry.

Berg says people often grind their teeth and clench their jaws during sleep or pull their shoulders up toward their ears when preparing to fall asleep. These activities involve the muscles in both the jaw and neck and often lead to morning headaches.

Along with evaluating the firmness of your mattress (the heavier the person, the more firm it should be), Berg advises sleepers to stretch and relax the area around their neck. Headaches, he says, can be caused by poor sleeping posture combined with shortened muscles.

Sleepers who wake up with lower-back pain are often those who spend a majority of their down time lying on their stomach, on a mattress that is too soft. After a long slumber, it can feel like your back is breaking in two, he says.

“This is because the midsection, which is the heaviest part of the body, sinks down into the bed, severely arching the back,” Berg explains. Combined with tight hip flexors, stomach sleeping can result in lower-back pain in the morning.

Sleeping on your side, stretching your hip flexors during the night and buying a firmer mattress can all help in alleviating lower-back pain.

Waking up with numbness in your arms is another sign that more stretching, and a better sleep position, is needed.

“Sleeping on your back with your arms above your head stretches the pectoralis major and minor, causing them to push on the top nerves and blood vessels that run from the neck and trunk into your arms, which then fall asleep,” Berg explains.

Stretching the chest muscles every night before going to bed is most helpful, he says, along with sleeping with your arms at your sides.

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