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Unexplained tightness and pain and difficulty moving make muscle stiffness an annoying ailment. When dealing with muscle stiffness, it helps to know the possible cause, though any action or factor that causes damage can lead to sore muscles.

Treatments vary based on whether the cause is illness or injury. Knowing what to try at home and when to see a doctor can help those stiff muscles recover as quickly as possible.

Cause: Injury

Also called a muscle strain or pulled muscle, muscular injuries happen when the body is overworked. This can be the result of trying a new exercise, exercising too vigorously, or an accident that tears the muscle.

When injury is the cause, bruising and swelling can accompany muscle stiffness. While most of these injuries are minor, see a doctor if you can't move the muscle at all, if the swelling is extreme, or if there is bleeding.

woman holding arm muscle in pain in the gym Nattakorn Maneerat / Getty Images
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Cause: Inactivity

Many people report having stiff muscles for no discernable reason first thing in the morning. Research isn't fully clear on why this happens, only that long periods of inactivity can cause sore muscles.

Long car rides and sitting at the computer can cause stiffness for the same reason as sleeping, though the pressure on the backs of the legs and posture issues may change the location. Working and sleeping with good posture and equipment (the right mattress, the right desk chair, etc), can help, as can stretching before and after sleep and throughout the day.

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Cause: Infection

Muscle stiffness is one common symptom of influenza. Damaged cells in the body lead to inflammation, coughing, headaches, and fever, as well as muscle aches.

If you live in an area with ticks, be mindful of round rashes that could indicate Lyme Disease. A red, swelling mass could indicate a muscle abscess. If the muscle stiffness doesn't ease after multiple days or is extreme, it's worth checking with a doctor.

woman with hand on forehead lying in bed and feeling sick AsiaVision / Getty Images
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Cause: Autoimmune Disease

If it's frequently difficult to move or muscles lock up for days on end, the cause could be an autoimmune disorder. Many conditions can cause the body to attack healthy muscle cells, including myositis, scleroderma, arthritis, and vasculitis.

Other chronic health conditions are not autoimmune disorders in their own right but have an affect on the immune system. Fibromyalgia, for instance, causes muscle stiffness, unexplained pain, and extreme fatigue.

An active mature woman experiencing hip pain during a walk Fertnig / Getty Images
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Cause: Drug Side Effect

There are medications that can cause and intensify muscle stiffness. ACE inhibitors and statins can both cause this side effect. These medications are important for managing blood pressure and cholesterol but can lead to an imbalance of nutrients and, therefore, muscle problems.

Using drugs like cocaine can also damage the muscles.

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Treatment: Rest

In mild cases of stiff muscles, sometimes all that's needed is a bit of relaxation while the muscle heals. Opt for gentler workouts or skip exercising for a day or two. Try to gently stretch and massage the muscle without straining it. Sleep can also aid recovery.

man sleeping in bed DeanDrobot / Getty Images
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Treatment: Heat/Cold Therapy

Alternating heating pads and cold compresses can help relax muscles. Applying a hot or cold pack immediately after a suspected injury can help reduce swelling and pain.

People can use this therapy at home with over-the-counter gels, clean washcloths soaked in hot or cold water, and ice baths and warm showers. It's important not to spend too much time in overly hot or cold water, though, as that can cause hypothermia or heat exhaustion.

Woman Applying Ice Bag On Her Shoulder AndreyPopov / Getty Images
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Treatment: Gentle Exercise

For many chronic forms of muscle stiffness, a gentle, regular exercise routine can reduce swelling, improve muscle function, and elevate mood. Physical therapists can help people with autoimmune diseases find the right workout for their condition.

People with the flu or temporary injury can also benefit from gentle exercise. This can take the form of light stretching or short walks.

woman doing stretching at home JLco - Julia Amaral / Getty Images
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Treatment: Medication

For mild cases of muscle stiffness, over-the-counter painkillers can help. More powerful medications may be necessary to counteract drug side effects, treat serious muscle tears, or ease chronic conditions.

Steroid injections are among the most common treatment for serious muscle injury, as they quickly reduce swelling and pain. They are not generally safe for long-term use, however, so some people may require drugs specifically for autoimmune diseases.

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Treatment: Immunotherapy

In cases where the immune system repeatedly attacks the muscle and medication cannot help, some people receive special therapies to help stop their chronic muscle stiffness and pain.

Immunoglobin therapy involves injections of healthy antibodies from donated blood. Some biotherapies use anti-cancer medications and injections to help boost the immune system. These therapies are rarely used for muscle stiffness, but can be effective if no other treatment works.

woman getting injection from doctor Udom Pinyo / Getty Images

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This site offers information designed for educational purposes only. You should not rely on any information on this site as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, treatment, or as a substitute for, professional counseling care, advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you have any concerns or questions about your health, you should always consult with a physician or other healthcare professional.