By Medicover Hospitals / 03 Mar 2021
Muscle stiffness, also known as muscle tension, rigor, or stiffness, is one of the most common causes of muscle pain. It is characterized by the inability of the muscles to relax normally. The condition can affect any of the muscles in the body, causing a sharp pain that makes movement difficult.
- What is Muscle Stiffness?
- When to visit a Doctor?
- Home Remedies
What is Muscle Stiffness?
Muscle stiffness occurs when your muscles feel tight and you find it more difficult to move than usual, especially after rest. You may also have muscle aches, cramps, and discomfort.
This differs from the stiffness and spasticity of the muscles. With these two symptoms, your muscles remain stiff even when you are not moving.
Muscle stiffness usually goes away on its own. You can find relief with regular exercise and stretching. Sometimes, muscle stiffness can be a sign of something more serious, especially if other symptoms are present.
There are a variety of things that can cause muscle stiffness, including:
A common cause of muscle stiffness is exercise or some type of strenuous physical work.
Often, stiffness can occur when someone starts a new routine or exercise program or has increased the intensity and duration of their routine.
When this happens, the muscles are required to work harder, and this causes microscopic damage to the muscle fibers, resulting in stiffness or pain. This type of injury is sometimes called delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS).
DOMS may cause by any movement, but is usually caused by:
- jogging or running downhill
- using weights
- doing squats
- do push-ups
Sprains and strains:
The most common cause of muscle stiffness is a sprain or strain, which can affect both muscles and ligaments.
A strain occurs when muscle fibers are stretched or torn. In the legs and lower back, strains are especially frequent.
A sprain is when the ligaments have been stretched, twisted, or torn. Ligaments are the bands of tissue around the joints that connect the bones.
Common areas prone to sprains include:
Polymyalgia rheumatica causes muscle pain and stiffness. The upper body, including the shoulders, spine, and arms, is commonly affected. It also commonly affects the hips. The average age of a person with polymyalgia rheumatica is 70 years old, and some people do not develop it until they are 80 years old. It is unclear the cause of the disease.
Bites or stings:
Insect bites and stings can cause muscle stiffness occasionally. Bites or stings can also cause a red, swollen lump on the skin, which can be itchy and painful. Insects that commonly sting or sting and can cause muscle stiffness include:
Symptoms from a bite or sting will improve within a few days, but some people have allergic reactions that may require medical attention.
More severe infections, such as Lyme disease, malaria, or Rocky Mountain spotted fever, can also be associated with stiffness following an insect bite. These conditions may also cause other symptoms, such as fever and malaise.
Besides other effects, certain diseases induce muscle stiffness. These infections include:
- Tetanus, a bacterial infection usually associated with dirt or soil
- Meningitis, an infection of the brain and spinal cord
- Legionnaires' disease
- Mononucleosis or mono
- Influenza or flu
Other things that can lead to occasional muscle stiffness include:
- lack of daily physical activity
- being overweight
- have a poor diet
- not sleeping well
- being in a cold or humid environment
To diagnose muscle stiffness, your doctor will first request your medical history and perform a physical exam. They can also perform lab tests to look for muscle damage and rule out any possible underlying conditions that may cause muscle stiffness.
These tests can include:
- Blood tests, which can help your doctor detect muscle damage and certain autoimmune disorders that can cause stiffness.
- Magnetic resonance imaging and computed tomography, which can reveal any bone abnormalities that may cause pinched nerves.
- An electromyogram, which can help your doctor assess how well your muscles and nerves are working.
- An ultrasound, which can help your doctor find tears and swelling in the muscle fibers.
If muscle stiffness is a symptom of an underlying condition, a person will work with their doctor to come up with a treatment plan. A doctor can also prescribe anti-inflammatory medications to reduce pain and discomfort.
Over-the-counter pain relievers work to relieve pain, although stronger medications can be prescribed.
If a drug causes stiffness, a doctor may adjust the dosage or prescribe an alternative.
Any basic home remedies for relaxation are available for most instances of muscle stiffness. These include:
- resting until the body repairs itself
- using ice or heat packs, or alternating between each
- stretching to improve flexibility and circulation
- take a warm bath or shower to promote blood circulation
- massage the affected areas
When to visit a Doctor?
Most cases of muscle stiffness clear up on their own or with the help of home remedies, but prolonged or frequent stiffness can sometimes be a sign of an underlying condition.
If someone experiences muscle stiffness along with additional symptoms, such as fever, pain, dark urine, or swelling, they should speak to a doctor.
If a person experiences stiffness after an insect bite or sting, they should speak to a medical professional, especially if they have allergy symptoms.
People should always talk to a doctor about the bothersome side effects of the medications they are taking, including muscle stiffness.
A person must inform the doctor about all the symptoms they have, not just muscle stiffness, to get an accurate diagnosis.
Home remedies are often effective in treating muscle stiffness caused by minor injuries, stress, or overuse. They may include:
Depending on the specific cause of your muscle stiffness, medical treatment may include surgery, medications, and physical therapy.
- Apply a warm compress or heating pad to the affected muscle to help relax stiff muscles.
- Gently stretch your stiff muscle to help relax it.
- Avoid strenuous activity that can make the muscle stiffen again.
- Stimulate muscles to relax through massage, yoga, or tai chi.
- Medical treatment
- You will need medical treatment for any serious injury or underlying health condition that may cause muscle stiffness. Treatment will address the condition or injury first and then muscle stiffness.
Frequently Asked Questions:
Stiffness is often associated with the slowness of movement (bradykinesia). It is often preceded by pain, stiffness, or a feeling of weakness in the muscles.
In addition to other effects, certain diseases induce muscle stiffness. These infections include tetanus, a bacterial infection usually associated with dirt or soil.
In people of all ages, vitamin D deficiency can cause muscle aches, fatigue, and bone pain.
Journal of neurophysiology - https://journals.physiology.org/doi/full/10.1152/jn.19184.108.40.2062
SAGE magazines - https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/03635465990270050801
Science Direct - https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S000399939690009X