PURPOSE: To identify the main characteristics, based on available evidence, of stabilizer muscles to inform the development of a definition of stabilizer muscles. METHODS: Electronic databases were systematically searched for relevant literature from the databases' inception to June 2013 using keywords related to stability, muscles, and characteristics of stabilizer muscles. Studies that provided at least one characteristic of a stabilizer muscle were included. For the quality assessment, all included articles were categorized as either experimental or opinion-based studies. Methodological quality was assessed using a customized checklist, and data were analyzed with a narrative synthesis involving content analysis. The number of articles providing either direct evidence supporting a link between the characteristic and joint stability or indirect evidence that a muscle considered to be a stabilizer has that characteristic determined the level of significance of that characteristic for stabilizer muscles. RESULTS: A total of 77 studies met the inclusion criteria. The highest number of articles providing supporting evidence that a particular muscle characteristic plays a stabilizing role related to biomechanical characteristics (27 articles), followed by neurological characteristics (22 articles) and anatomical/physiological characteristics (4 articles). CONCLUSION: Based on a synthesis of supporting evidence from the literature, stabilizer muscles can be defined as muscles that contribute to joint stiffness by co-contraction and show an early onset of activation in response to perturbation via either a feed-forward or a feedback control mechanism. These results may guide researchers to investigate which muscles exhibit these characteristics to determine whether particular muscles have a stabilizer rather than a prime mover role during normal functioning.