Stiffness Indicates How Much Inflammation is Present

Stiffness is a general term used to describe the feeling of resistance that occurs with movement. It is often accompanied by pain and comes about due to inflammation. When joints or muscles are irritated and inflamed, excess fluid collects in the tissues and restricts mobility. This results in stiffness and typically produces pain or other sensations like numbness and tingling.

Often, stiffness is worse after prolonged inactivity. People who have arthritis are often bothered most by stiffness when they first get up in the morning. This is because of the fluid that has accumulated in the joint spaces during the night. As the person moves around, the arthritic stiffness decreases.


How long back stiffness lasts depends on its cause. The pain and stiffness may be intermittent. For instance, it may only occur after certain activities or at only certain times of the day. In other cases, movement is continually restricted and difficult.

Back pain and stiffness can be caused by many different conditions. Sudden pain and stiffness often occur following an injury. Joint stiffness that comes on slowly and gradually worsens can be due to an underlying disease. Arthritis, which is an inflammation of the joints, is the primary reason for joint stiffness.

Different forms of arthritis that cause joint stiffness include:

  • Osteoarthritis
  • Gout
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Septic arthritis

In addition to arthritis, other conditions can cause inflammation, pain, and stiffness in the back. These include:

  • Herniated discs
  • Osteomyelitis (an infection in the bones of the spine)
  • Muscle spasms
  • Osteoporosis (a condition which causes fragile or weakened bones)
  • Spinal stenosis, leading to sciatic nerve damage
  • Spondylitis (inflammation of the joints of the spine)
  • Sprains and strains

Back stiffness sometimes occurs due to a condition somewhere else in the body, such as a kidney or bladder infection, premenstrual syndrome, fibromyalgia, or uterine prolapse.

In most cases, stiffness in the muscles and joints of the back can be treated by your doctor. Basic self-care measures can often help relieve stiff and sore joints and muscles, and physical therapy is sometimes recommended.

If you have pain and stiffness in your back, accompanied by a fever, or numbness in your arms or legs, or a loss of bladder or bowel control, seek emergency medical care right away. These are signs of a serious medical condition. Also, if your back stiffness and pain are severe or persistent, contact your health care provider for evaluation and treatment.