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  • Writer's pictureCrucial Rehab Team

Why do you experience muscle tightness?

Muscle Tightness is a Feeling

When someone says they feel the muscle tightness, they might be referring to different experiences.

1. Muscle tightness = poor range of motion?

“I cannot touch the ground in a forward bend, and I feel my legs are tight.” “I can touch the ground in a forward bend, but I feel my legs are tight.”

2. Muscle tightness = unpleasant sensation at the end range of movement?

“I can touch the ground in a forward bend, but I feel my legs are tight at the end range of the movement.”

3. Muscle tightness = discomfort or soreness over particular area?

“I feel my back is tight after sitting in front of my computer for the whole day.”

Muscle tightness probably is just a feeling and not necessarily a condition of muscle shortening.

Why do We Experience Muscle Tightness?

1. Repetitive or static muscle work

According to Cinderella hypothesis, small motor units are first to be recruited and last to be relaxed during prolonged muscle contractions, for example long periods of time using the computer. Prolonged contraction would lead to an energy crisis by increasing ATP(energy currency of the cell) consumption. This energy crisis may evoke the release of metabolic byproducts, compress blood capillary circulation, and lead to inadequate oxygen and glucose supply.  This could sensitize pain receptors and produce a variety of pain.

A study has shown that people with back pain may feel the stiffness, but that is not because they have poor range of motion, instead the stiffness may be a perception to avoid specific movement which might trigger the unpleasant sensation. The feeling of pain is essentially a body alarm which warns us not to move that certain part, while muscle tightness is likely a signal to tell us to move.

2. Mechanical overload

A muscle strain happens when the muscle fibers cannot cope with the extensive mechanical stress placed on them and thus it leads to muscle fibers tear. This mostly occurs as a result of a powerful eccentric contraction or over-stretching of the muscle.

Muscle strain has the following symptoms such as pain, bruise, muscle tightness, muscle weakness or inability to fully stretch the affected part.

3. Psychological stress Muscle tension is a reflex reaction to stress, the way of our body to protect against injury and pain. Under stress, muscles tense up.

4. Sleep disturbance

Traditionally, sleep disturbance has been considered a feature of fibromyalgia that is a consequence of severe pain and depression. However, both experimental and epidemiologic studies suggested that sleep dysfunction can cause fibromyalgia.

It is a chronic condition causes pain, stiffness, and tenderness of the muscles, joints and tendons.


1. Shah JP, Thaker N, Heimur J, Aredo JV, Sikdar S, Gerber L. 2015. Myofascial Trigger Points Then and Now: A Historical and Scientific Perspective. PM R 7(7):746–761.

2. Carel Bron and Jan D. Dommerholt. 2012. Etiology of Myofascial Trigger Points. CurrPain Headache Rep 16:439–444.

3. Tasha R. Stanton, Lorimer Moseley, Arnold Y. L. Wong and Gregory N. Kawchuk. 2017. Feeling Stiffness in the Back: A Protective Perceptual Inference in Chronic Back Pain. Scientific reports 7: 9681.

4. Ernest H.S. Choy.  2015. The Role of Sleep in Pain and Fibromyalgia. Nat. Rev Rheumatol 11:513-520.

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