Muscle Stiffness After Surgery

Muscle Stiffness After Surgery

Muscle stiffness after surgery occurs when you feel tightness or muscle pain around a surgical site. This stiffness can be mild or severe, depending on the type of surgery you undergo. Unfortunately, in cases when stiffness is severe, it can limit your mobility and function.

That’s why it is essential to get prompt treatment to prevent further complications. Leaving stiff muscles untreated can lead to increased pain, reduced range of motion, and muscle weakness. Therefore, it is best to get physical therapy in Bedford, TX. This article explores the role of physical therapy in relieving muscle stiffness after surgery and popular exercises for reducing this pain at Barkman & Smith Physical Therapy.

Is It Normal To Experience Muscle Stiffness After Surgery?

It is normal to experience muscle stiffness after a procedure. And that is because, during surgery, your surgeon will administer anesthesia to help numb the pain. However, after the surgery, the anesthesia and trauma due to the procedure contribute to muscle stiffness. In addition, being immobile for a while during and after the surgery contribute to muscle stiffness.

The duration and intensity of muscle stiffness varies for individuals depending on the type of surgery. Generally, the symptoms of muscle stiffness post-surgery include a reduced range of motion, muscle spasms, fatigue, and discomfort when moving or stretching.

Acknowledging the place of muscle stiffness after surgery is essential to help you seek appropriate treatment and prevent further complications.

Causes Of Muscle Stiffness After Surgery?

As mentioned, anesthesia, trauma, and inactivity contribute to muscle stiffness after a procedure. Furthermore, the effects of surgery can contribute to muscle stiffness. Another cause of muscle stiffness post-surgery is inflammation. Inflammation around the surgical site can also make the site stiff and sore.


Although anesthesia is safe, complications like muscle stiffness may occur. That is because anesthesia relaxes and temporarily paralyzes the muscles to prevent movement during the procedure. After the surgery, the relaxant in the anesthesia may cause you to experience muscle stiffness for a few days.


Inflammation is a natural response of the body to injury and surgery. After a procedure, your body will produce inflammation as part of the natural healing process. Unfortunately, the inflammation results in muscle stiffness, soreness, and swelling


After surgery, it is advisable to limit your movement to help your body recover quickly. However, unfortunately, prolonged immobility can weaken the muscles, causing them to become stiff and resulting in further immobility.

Scar tissue formation

After surgery, your body forms scar tissue around the surgical site. Unfortunately, excessive scar tissue can reduce movement and lead to stiffness.


During surgery, your surgeon may stretch, cut, and manipulate your body tissues, leading to trauma and stiffness.

How Long Does Muscle Stiffness Last After Surgery?

The duration of muscle stiffness may last from several days to a few weeks after surgery. This duration depends on several factors, including the type of surgery, the extent of trauma, and your overall health. 

Generally, patients who undergo more extensive surgeries are more likely to experience significant tissue damage and, subsequently, muscle stiffness. Other risk factors include age, underlying medical conditions, and poor nutrition.

It is important to note that although muscle stiffness after surgery typically resolves on its own,  there are cases where it becomes prolonged or severe. In this case, it is best to visit your doctor for an evaluation of your symptoms. Usually, your physical therapist will create a personalized treatment program to address your symptoms and speed up your recovery.

How To Relieve Muscle Stiffness After Surgery

Several techniques can help relieve muscle stiffness post-procedure. These techniques include heat therapy, cold therapy, massage, medication, and exercises.

Heat therapy

Heat therapy involves applying heat to the affected area to alleviate pain and stiffness. For example, you can use a towel, a heating pad, or a warm bath to apply heat to the affected area. Nevertheless, avoid applying heat from a direct source to the stiff area. In addition, do not apply heat for more than 15 minutes at a time.

Cold therapy

Like heat therapy, cold therapy can also help reduce inflammation and swelling resulting from muscle stiffness. You can use an ice pack, cold shower or cold towel. However, it is also necessary to avoid applying cold to the stiff area for more than 15 minutes at a time.


Your doctor may prescribe over-the-counter pain relievers like ibuprofen if you still feel pain after applying heat and cold therapy. Although medication can relieve pain and stiffness, it is essential to always consult your doctor before taking any medication.

Physical therapy

Physical therapy can also help alleviate muscle stiffness after surgery. This treatment includes massage, electrical stimulation, and exercises to improve blood flow, reduce muscle tension, and relieve pain and stiffness.

Undergoing physical therapy after your surgery can speed up your recovery, reduce pain, and improve your mobility. It can also promote blood flow and increase muscle strength, reducing the risk of muscle stiffness.

What Is The Role Of Nutrition In Relieving Muscle Stiffness After Surgery?

After surgery, it is essential to rest to speed up your healing process. Nevertheless, adequate nutrition is vital to boosting your recovery and reducing muscle stiffness. Therefore, consuming a balanced diet rich in proteins, vitamins, and minerals is ideal for maximum recovery.

What Physical Therapy Exercises Can Help Reduce Muscle Stiffness After Surgery?

Although there are several physical therapy exercises for alleviating muscle stiffness after surgery, it is essential to visit a physical therapist first. Physical therapy in Fort Worth and Bedford, TX, will create a treatment program that accounts for your needs and goals. Your qualified physical therapist will also guide you on how to carry out your exercises while monitoring your progress.

Your physical therapy exercise may include a range of motion, stretching, and strengthening exercises. Range of motion exercises improves your flexibility and mobility, allowing you to carry out everyday activities like bending and extending the affected muscle.

Stretching exercises also improve flexibility and reduce stiffness. Strengthening exercises, on the other hand, rebuild your strength. The exercises may involve lifting equipment and resistance bands, depending on your rehabilitation.

What Are The Popular Physical Therapy Exercises For Reducing Muscle Stiffness After Surgery?

Ankle range of motion

Ankle range of motion exercise improves your mobility and function. Your ankles may be stiff and painful initially. However, with regular exercise, the feeling of stiffness should ease.

How to do ankle range of motion exercise

  • Lie on your back with your legs straight.
  • Bend your ankles and push your knees firmly against the bed.
  • Hold the position for 5 seconds and relax.
  • Repeat the exercise 15 times per set for 3 sets per day.

Knee extension

Knee extension exercises target your quadricep muscle and improve your range of motion. Doing this exercise regularly makes it easier for you to perform activities like walking, running, squatting, and jumping.

How to do knee extension exercise

  • Lie on your back.
  • Bend one leg, keep your foot on the bed, and put a cushion under the other knee.
  • Extend your straight leg by pulling your toes and foot up.
  • Tighten your thigh muscle and straighten the knee.
  • Keep the knee on the cushion and hold the position for 5 seconds.
  • Relax.
  • Repeat the exercise 15 times per set for 3 sets per day.

Pelvic tilts

Pelvic tilts are one of the safest stretches post-surgery. The exercise alleviates back pain and reduces stiffness in the lower back.

How to do pelvic tilts

  • Lie flat with your back and feet flat on the floor.
  • Tighten your abdominal muscles.
  • Pull your belly button in so your lower back is flush with the floor.
  • Hold the position for about 10 seconds.
  • Repeat the exercise 10 times per set for 3 sets per day.


Bridges stretch and stabilize several muscles, including the hamstrings, core, and glutes. The exercise helps to strengthen your lower body and improve core stability.

How to do bridges

  • Lie on your back, your feet flat on the floor, and your knees bent.
  • Place your arms at your side as an anchor.
  • Lift your hips off the floor till your body torso to knees, is straight.
  • Hold the position for 15 seconds before lowering yourself slowly.
  • Repeat the exercise 10 times per set for 3 sets per day.

Calf raises

Calf raises strengthen your muscles, allowing you to walk and stand without pain or impingement.

How to do calf raises

  • Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and toes pointing forward.
  • Keep your back straight, shoulders back and down, and your abs pulled in.
  • Raise your heels slowly and keep your knees extended but not locked.
  • Pause for one second when you are standing on the tip of your toes.
  • Lower your heels back to the ground to return to the starting position.
  • Do this exercise 10 times per set for 3 sets per day.

Hip abductors

Hip abductors strengthen your muscles and improve movement. The exercise promotes stability in your hip muscles when you walk or run.

How to do hip abductors

  • Lie down on your side with your legs extended and your knees stacked one on top of the other.
  • Bend your bottom elbow.
  • Place your lower arm under your head and rest the full weight of your head on your forearm.
  • Keep your feet in a neutral position and perpendicular to your legs.
  • Let your top armrest on the outside of the thigh.
  • Raise your upper leg just above your hip joint and exhale slowly.
  • Hold the position for two seconds when you feel your hips and back start to tense
  • Slowly lower your leg. Inhale slowly.
  • Keep the upper leg straight and directly stacked above the lower leg.
  • Repeat this exercise 10 times per set for 3 sets per day.
  • Do the exercise on each side.


Experiencing muscle stiffness after a procedure is normal. However, without proper management, this stiffness can become severe and chronic. It is, therefore, best to get prompt treatment. Treatment for stiff muscles includes heat and cold therapy, medication, and physical therapy.

Barkman & Smith Physical Therapy has qualified physical therapists that will examine you and prescribe treatment that suit your condition. We will also monitor your progress and ensure you recover soon.