Understanding symptom experiences of muscle tightness from patients’ and clinicians’ perspectives

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


Aims and objectives: The purpose of this study was to determine how patients’ symptom experiences of muscle tightness correlate with examiner assessments. To address this question, we (1) obtained the vocabularies used by patients and examiners to describe muscle tightness, (2) correlated patient- reported Visual Analog Scale ratings for locations of muscle tightness on a body diagram and (3) explored the similarities and differences between patient and examiner evaluation of muscle tightness analytically and graphically. Background: Symptoms of muscle tightness are common complaints that occur due to musculoskeletal and neuromusculoskeletal injuries. Terms such as muscle tightness are often intermingled with other conditions including muscle tension, muscle spasticity and muscle rigidity. Discrepancies between patients and clinicians understanding of similar symptoms have been reported in the literature. Design: A concurrent exploratory mixed methods design was used. Method: Fifty-seven participants (six physical therapists, 51 patients) participated. Participants provided semi-structured interviews, ratings through Visual Analog Scale and concurrently provided the words used to describe muscle tightness. Patients also provided the location of muscle tightness on a body diagram. Content analysis and hierarchical linear modelling were used for data analysis. Results: The patients’ vocabularies contained more sensory and pain experiences when compared to the clinicians’ vocabularies. Examiners and patients ratings were variable (standard deviation >20) and contained discrepancies. Stress played a role in the symptom experience of muscle tightness. Examiners tended to focus on patients’ chief complaints, while patients reported their symptoms from a whole-body perspective. Conclusions: Symptom experiences of muscle tightness can occur with or without pain. Use of complementary therapy and development of an objective tool that accounts for patients’ sensory experiences is warranted. Relevance to clinical Practice: Findings from this study indicate that in addition to all other available treatments options, nurses must also educate patients about correct posture alignment, breathing exercises and stress management.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1927-1938
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Clinical Nursing
Issue number13-14
StatePublished - Jul 2017

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2016 John Wiley & Sons Ltd


  • advanced nursing
  • disability
  • musculoskeletal
  • symptom perception


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