Muscle Tension Symptoms, Causes & Common Questions

Understand your muscle tension symptoms, including 2 causes & common questions.

  1. Muscle Tension Symptoms
  2. Muscle Tension Causes
  3. 2 Possible Muscle Tension Conditions
  4. Muscle Tension Treatments & Prevention
  5. Real-Life Stories
  6. Questions Your Doctor May Ask
  7. Statistics
  8. Related Articles
  9. References

Muscle Tension Symptoms

The muscles of the body are always in a state of contraction. Whether you are sitting down or running, your muscles are continuously working to maintain your posture and allow your body to move. The muscles contract and relax in tandem in order to maintain this baseline tone and ensure your body moves properly.

Even though the muscles are always contracting, sometimes you may experience excessive tightness, rigidity, or a sensation of your muscles knotting that feels uncomfortable and abnormal. This happens when the muscles stay contracted for a prolonged period of time and are unable to relax normally.

Common characteristics of muscle tension

Muscle tension of this type may be associated with:

  • Pain
  • Cramping
  • Stiffness
  • Difficulty moving, especially after rest
  • Symptoms at rest

Muscle tension is usually not life-threatening and resolves on its own. Relief can be found in exercising and stretching properly, but in some cases, muscle tension may signal a more serious underlying condition. Make an appointment with your physician promptly in order to get appropriate care.

Muscle Tension Causes

The causes of underlying muscle tension are broad and varied.

Inflammatory causes

Inflammatory causes that can lead to muscle tension include the following.

  • Infection: Infections can cause inflammation in the muscles that can lead to tension and stiffness. For example, a serious bacterial infectioncalled tetanusthat affects the entire nervous system can result in excessive muscle contraction that can result in rigidity and stiffness [1]. Due to the tetanus vaccine, this cause of muscle tension is rare.
  • Systemic illness: Systemic illnesses such as autoimmune conditions, diabetes, and neurologic disorders can result in muscle tension and stiffness that is chronic and difficult to relieve. These illnesses cause widespread inflammation throughout the body that can particularly affect the muscles.

Environmental causes

Environmental causes can be related to certain exposures or lifestyle habits.

  • Stress: Stress can adversely affect the body's nervous system, particularly the nerves and how they function [2]. The nervous system often responds to this type of stress by putting additional pressure on the blood vessels, which can result in reduced blood flow to the area. This can cause muscle tension and pain.
  • Medications: Muscle tension can result as a side effect from certain medications. Statins, prescription medications used for lowering and controlling cholesterol, have muscle tension as a known side effect. Take note if you are taking any of these medications and when your symptoms begin.
  • Positional: Exercise can cause muscle tension, but being sedentary can also lead to stiffness and tension as well. Situations such as long flights or desk jobs in which you are sitting for prolonged periods of time can result in muscle tension.

Traumatic causes

Traumatic causes of muscle tension can be related to the following.

  • Injury: Direct injury to a body part can result in stiffness via fractures, bruising or resultant swelling [3]. Tension and stiffness after trauma are difficult to initially recognize due to the pain that accompanies traumatic injury; however, stiffness days or weeks after the event can signal an underlying issue. If you experience direct trauma, seek emergency medical attention to assess for broken bones.

  • Overuse: Muscles that are over-worked without proper conditioning and stretching can become tight and tense. This is often a leading cause of muscle tension that can be easily resolved with rest, stretching and relaxation.

2 Possible Muscle Tension Conditions

The list below shows results from the use of our quiz by Buoy users who experienced muscle tension. This list does not constitute medical advice and may not accurately represent what you have.

Generalized anxiety disorder (gad)

Anxiety disorders are one of the most common mental health problems in the United States. Generalized anxiety disorder refers to ongoing feelings of worry and anxiousness that persists for at least six months. Generalized anxiety disorder seems to run in families, making some individuals more vulnerable to stressors than others.

Symptoms include constant feelings of worry over both major and everyday events, difficulty concentrating or sleeping, feeling tired, irritability, as well as physical symptoms, such as headaches and body aches.

The diagnosis is made by patient history and physical examination to rule out physical causes. The individual may be referred to a mental health specialist for further evaluation and treatment, which may involve talk therapy to learn new ways to manage stress, medications, and lifestyle adjustments.

Rarity: Common

Top Symptoms: fatigue, trouble sleeping, general anxiety (stress), irritability, nausea

Symptoms that always occur with generalized anxiety disorder (gad): general anxiety (stress)

Urgency: Primary care doctor

Muscle Tension Symptom Checker

Take a quiz to find out what might be causing your muscle tension

Acute stress disorder

Acute stress disorder (ASD) is a psychological condition caused by trauma, especially by any violent attack such as robbery, assault, or combat. "Acute" means that clear symptoms appear within days of the traumatic event. Most susceptible are those with a previous history o...

Read more

Muscle Tension Treatments and Relief

Muscle tension can likely be helped significantly by a few at-home treatments and lifestyle adjustments [4]. However, if your muscle tension worsens or persists, consult your physician.

At-home treatments for muscle tension

Most of the time, you can alleviate your symptoms of muscle tension with simple, at-home remedies especially if your symptoms are caused by small injuries, stress or overuse. Try the following tips and suggestions below:

  • Heat: Applying a heating pad or warm compress to the affected area can facilitate relaxation [5].
  • Stretch: Use stretching techniques to help relax your tense muscle, especially after exercise.
  • Avoid strenuous activities: These may trigger the muscle to tense up and become rigid again.
  • Alternative measures: Try therapies such as massage, yoga and sometimes acupuncture to facilitate relaxation of the muscles.

When to schedule an appointment for muscle tension

If home treatments and remedies do not help your symptoms, make an appointment with your physician. Your treatment plan will depend on the specific cause and may include surgery, medications, physical therapy or a combination of all three.

How to prevent muscle tension

You can also work to prevent your symptoms of muscle tension by practicing the lifestyle changes below:

  • Practice good posture: This is especially important if you sit for long periods of time; however, you should try to maintain good posture while standing as well.
  • Use supportive furniture: Make sure your furniture/desk chair at home and at work provides comfort and support.
  • Take regular breaks: Getting up to walk around, stretch, and move throughout the day can reduce stiffness and keep the muscles loose.
  • Maintain a healthy diet: This should consist of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.

When muscle tension is an emergency

Seek medical attention immediately if you experience muscle tension along with any of the following:

Real-life Stories

Once your story is reviewed and approved by our editors, it will live on Buoy as a helpful resource for anyone who may be dealing with something similar. If you want to learn more, try Buoy Assistant.

Questions Your Doctor May Ask About Muscle Tension

To diagnose this condition, your doctor would likely ask the following questions:

  • Are there specific situations that cause your anxiety, or does it seem that almost anything will make you anxious?
  • Are you experiencing a headache?
  • Are you having difficulty concentrating or thinking through daily activities?
  • Do you have thoughts of hurting yourself?

If you've answered yes to one or more of these questions

Muscle Tension Symptom Checker

Take a quiz to find out what might be causing your muscle tension

Muscle Tension Symptom Checker Statistics

People who have experienced muscle tension have also experienced:

  • 8% Headache
  • 4% Fatigue
  • 3% Pain In The Back Of The Neck

People who have experienced muscle tension were most often matched with:

  • 50% Generalized Anxiety Disorder (Gad)
  • 50% Acute Stress Disorder

Source: Aggregated and anonymized results from Buoy Assistant (a.k.a. the quiz).

Muscle Tension Symptom Checker

Take a quiz to find out what might be causing your muscle tension


  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Updated January 10, 2017. CDC Link
  2. Stress effects. The American Institute of Stress. AIS Link
  3. Howell JN, Chleboun G, Conatser R. Muscle stiffness, strength loss, swelling and soreness following exercise-induced injury in humans. The Journal of Physiology. 1993;464:183-196. NCBI Link
  4. Cheung K, Hume P, Maxwell L. Delayed onset muscle soreness: Treatment strategies and performance factors. Sports Medicine. 2003;33(2):145-164. NCBI Link
  5. Muscle Cramps. American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons: OrthoInfo. Reviewed June 2017. OrthoInfo Link

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