The aged suffer from progressive muscle weakness and regenerative failure. We demonstrate that muscle regeneration is impaired with aging due in part to a cell-autonomous functional decline in skeletal muscle stem cells (MuSCs). Two-thirds of aged MuSCs are intrinsically defective relative to young MuSCs, with reduced capacity to repair myofibers and repopulate the stem cell reservoir in vivo following transplantation due to a higher incidence of cells that express senescence markers and that have elevated p38α/β MAPK activity. We show that these limitations cannot be overcome by transplantation into the microenvironment of young recipient muscles. In contrast, subjecting the aged MuSC population to transient inhibition of p38α/β in conjunction with culture on soft hydrogel substrates rapidly expands the residual functional aged MuSC population, rejuvenating its potential for regeneration, serial transplantation, and strengthening damaged muscles of aged mice. These findings reveal a synergy between biophysical and biochemical cues that provides a paradigm for a localized autologous muscle stem cell therapy in aged individuals.