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Description of the Symptom

This chapter describes pathology that may lead to stiffness of the body. Stiffness is both an objective event that can be perceived by a clinician and a subjective phenomenon that is perceived by the individual. The increased resistance to movement a therapist feels while passively moving a limb of his or her patient might be described as stiffness. Additionally, stiff might refer to a patient's description of how the limbs feel when he or she attempts to actively move or bend. Subjective stiffness may arise from issues with motor sequencing and recruitment, coordination, and the length of passive structures.

Special Concerns

  • A change in prior level of stiffness, including but not limited to:

    • Increase in spasticity

    • Change in resting muscle tone

  • A new onset of stiffness not associated with original purpose of the physical therapy visit. This may include:

    • Spasticity

    • Clonus

    • Rigidity

    • Hypertonicity

    • Hypotonicity

    • Stiffness that is not of musculoskeletal origin

Conceptual overview of conditions that lead to stiffness

CHAPTER PREVIEW: Conditions That May Lead to Stiffness

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