Physical Symptoms

How Anxiety Can Create Aches and Pains

Micah Abraham, BSc

Written by

Micah Abraham, BSc

Last updated October 10, 2020

How Anxiety Can Create Aches and Pains

Aches and pains are a common part of anxiety. While anxiety may be categorized as a mental health condition, our bodies and minds are actually closely connected. This means that anxiety symptoms can often manifest in the form of very real physical symptoms. Sometimes, the impact that anxiety has on our bodies can be even more distressing and noticeable than the impact it has on our thoughts and emotions!

One common example of how anxiety can affect us emotionally is the case of bodily aches and pains. Anxiety can cause many different types of these, and a small sample of them are listed below.

Causes of Aches

Every person is different, and there are a broad range of differing anxiety disorders. So without knowing which one we’re dealing with, specifying the cause and/or effects can be tough. But here are some signs that you may have anxiety, along with their potential causes:

Muscle Tension

It all starts with muscle tension, which is a common type of pain associated with anxiety and stress. Muscle tension is the result of muscle contractions, which occur as a result of stress. If you've ever experienced a great deal of physical exertion, you're familiar with the basic root of this pain.

Furthermore, muscle tension can also lead to the buildup of lactic acid, which can lead to muscle pains. Both contribute to the feeling of aches and pain that people experience while stressed. This tension can be felt in almost every muscle in the body, but it's common in:

  • The back
  • The shoulders
  • The neck
  • The face and jaw

However, it should be noted that you can experience muscle tension from anxiety in many other muscle areas, and you may even find that your legs or arms are prone to aches as a result of this type of tension.

Behavioral Responses to Anxiety

A similar and related problem has to do with your own behavioral responses to your anxiety, aches and pains. For example, perhaps your anxiety has caused you to feel fatigue or low energy, and you spend a great deal of time slouching in your chair. That behavioral response will increase the likelihood of creating lower back pain, because slouching can lead to this type of discomfort.

Muscle tension can create similar problems. If you have muscle tension within your shoulder, you may lift objects in a manner your body isn't accustomed to, and this can cause you to create pain in your lower back. This is just one of many examples of how aches and pains may be the result of how you respond to your symptoms.

Chest Pains and Other Panic Symptoms

Not all aches and pains are in your muscles either. Some anxiety disorders can cause other symptoms, like chest pains, a painful tingling in the hands and feet, and more. These are often the result of hyperventilation, which occurs during panic attacks and severe anxiety.


Headaches are tricky. Most anxiety headaches are actually just a form of tension, known as a "tension headache." Your muscles tense up, and your head experiences pain as a result. But anxiety is also known to cause migraines, and migraines can lead to immense discomfort around your head, as well as symptoms that may create more anxiety.


Another thing to keep in mind with anxiety is that not all aches and pains are caused by anxiety. Every day you experience very small discomforts all over your body for many reasons. Someone who is anxiety-free may be able to ignore them and find that they quickly go away.

But those with anxiety tend to suffer from what's known as "hypersensitivity." Hypersensitivity is when you become too attuned to the way your body feels, to the point where you notice nearly every physical sensation in your body. When you pay that much attention to those sensations, your mind has a tendency to amplify them, and that makes them more likely to cause more pain than they would have naturally done.

Now, that doesn’t mean that these are not genuine pains either. Studies have shown there are biological ways that anxiety can create pain. But even when that is the case, hypersensitivity may increase the severity of that pain. In the end, anxiety and pain are closely linked.

Other Ache and Pain Issues

It should also be noted that anxiety is an incredibly complex condition that causes various changes to the way your body operates. Some people experience throat pain. Others experience unusual nerve sensations in their legs. Others experience random cramping. Still others experience abdominal discomfort or shooting pains that have no apparent causes.

Only a doctor can diagnose where these pains came from. But there are countless examples of aches and pains that are the result of anxiety despite no apparent physical reason for them to occur.

How to Stop These Pains

Most of these aches and pains are treatable with the very same treatments you would use if you had these problems in the absence anxiety. For example, over the counter painkillers are a popular treatment (always consult your doctor or pharmacist before taking any medication); and appropriate stretching or exercise may reduce some of the discomforts. Furthermore, by taking steps to treat the underlying anxiety, rather than simply the pain that you feel, you’re more likely to be able to avoid aches and pains happening in the first place.

Questions? Comments?

Do you have a specific question that this article didn’t answered? Send us a message and we’ll answer it for you!

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Where can I go to learn more about Jacobson’s relaxation technique and other similar methods?

– Anonymous patient


You can ask your doctor for a referral to a psychologist or other mental health professional who uses relaxation techniques to help patients. Not all psychologists or other mental health professionals are knowledgeable about these techniques, though. Therapists often add their own “twist” to the technqiues. Training varies by the type of technique that they use. Some people also buy CDs and DVDs on progressive muscle relaxation and allow the audio to guide them through the process.

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