Muscle Stiffness: Definition and What It Is

Medically and clinically reviewed by Jonathan Lee, MD and Maureen Lu, PT, DPT

Muscle Stiffness Definition and Meaning

Muscle stiffness, also known as muscle tightness, refers to soreness, pain, or cramping that makes muscles feel tight and, in some cases, limits movement. Muscle stiffness can occur for a variety of reasons, including overuse, muscle cramps, sprains and strains, and chronic conditions like fibromyalgia.

Muscle Stiffness Symptoms

Muscle stiffness symptoms vary, but commonly include: a feeling of tightness or rigidity in the muscles, making movement more challenging; pain or soreness, particularly after periods of inactivity like sleeping or sitting for extended periods; and reduced range of motion in the affected area and the associated joints those muscles attach to. 

If muscle stiffness is persistent, worsens, or is accompanied by other symptoms such as fever, swelling, or severe pain, it may be the result of a more serious underlying condition and should be evaluated by a healthcare professional.

Muscle Stiffness: A Hinge Health Perspective

When muscles feel stiff and tight, the pain you experience can feel limiting and frustrating. It may make you reluctant to move, especially if you experienced more stiffness after being active. But know this: Movement is often the fastest way to a healthier, more flexible body. As our Hinge Health care team says, movement is medicine. Movement helps rehab sore muscles by increasing blood flow, and gradually improving the muscle’s strength and flexibility. 

Your muscles — especially big muscle groups that are prone to tightness — are very resilient and designed to recover from the kinds of issues that naturally can happen in the course of everyday activities or during exercise.

Muscle Stiffness Treatment

Muscle stiffness can be treated with conservative, at-home measures. While you may be familiar with the R.I.C.E. (rest, ice, compression, and elevation) approach to pain relief for tight muscles, there’s a more updated treatment strategy — P.E.A.C.E. and L.O.V.E. — that prioritizes gentle movement and activity modifications to help rehab the affected muscles.

How Physical Therapy Can Help With Muscle Stiffness

Physical therapy can aid in the treatment of muscle stiffness. A well-rounded cardio, strength, and stretching routine can help keep your muscles healthy and treat or prevent stiffness and pain. A physical therapist (PT) can also work with you on a strengthening and stretching plan that targets your affected muscles and related joints. You can see a physical therapist in person or use a program like Hinge Health to access a PT via telehealth/video visit.

How Hinge Health Can Help You 

If you have joint or muscle pain that makes it hard to move, you can get the relief you’ve been looking for with Hinge Health’s online exercise therapy program.

The best part: You don’t have to leave your home because our program is digital. That means you can easily get the care you need through our app, when and where it works for you. 

Through our program, you’ll have access to therapeutic exercises and stretches for your condition. 

Additionally, you’ll have a personal care team to guide, support, and tailor our program to you. See if you qualify for Hinge Health and confirm free coverage through your employer or benefit plan here.

This article and its contents are provided for educational and informational purposes only and do not constitute medical advice or professional services specific to you or your medical condition.


  1. Kett, A. R., Milani, T. L., & Sichting, F. (2021). Sitting for Too Long, Moving Too Little: Regular Muscle Contractions Can Reduce Muscle Stiffness During Prolonged Periods of Chair-Sitting. Frontiers in Sports and Active Living, 3. doi:10.3389/fspor.2021.760533

  2. Stanton, T. R., Moseley, G. L., Wong, A. Y. L., & Kawchuk, G. N. (2017). Feeling stiffness in the back: a protective perceptual inference in chronic back pain. Scientific Reports, 7. doi:10.1038/s41598-017-09429-1

Related Terms