Physical Symptoms

The Anxious Mind and Body: Arm Pain Explained

Micah Abraham, BSc

Written by

Micah Abraham, BSc

Last updated November 25th, 2020

The Anxious Mind and Body: Arm Pain Explained

Pain is almost always distressing. It doesn't matter if you know the cause of the pain or whether or not the pain represents something dangerous—pain can be distracting, upsetting, and make it hard to enjoy the things going on in your life.

When the cause of that pain is a mystery, it can become even more concerning. Those that struggle with arm pain often feel that their pain may be a sign of something more serious, and wonder if their pain is something that will ever stop.

Your Pain May Have a Meaning

Many people hope for a quick way to determine the cause of arm pain including ruling out anxiety as a cause. Unfortunately, there is no way to know—your doctor can rule out any other causes of recurrent arm pain and help you recognize if anxiety is the likely culprit.

Note that arm pain is unlikely to be the only sign of anxiety. It's often a part of a web of symptoms occurring intermittently and/or simultaneously with the pain. 

Causes of Arm Pain From Anxiety

The causes of arm pain may vary, and different anxiety symptoms may cause different levels of arm pain. The most common causes of arm pain include:

  • Muscle Tension The single most likely cause of arm pain is muscle tension. Anxiety causes muscles in the neck, shoulders, back, and arms to become very tense, and that pressure may result in varying levels of pain. Depending on the way you're sitting or standing, that pain may be more pronounced in some areas than others, and for many that pain is mostly limited to the arm area.
  • Hyperventilation Pain Those suffering from panic attacks are prone to hyperventilation, and hyperventilation can cause a combination of chest pain and arm pain that mimics what someone would feel during a heart attack. That's one of the reasons that seeing a doctor is still important - it's always important to rule out any heart issues, even if you're positive it's anxiety. Hyperventilation causes blood vessels to constrict, leading to sharp pains that may radiate down the arm.
  • Overcompensation Those with anxiety often alter their lifestyle and their behaviors based on how their anxiety makes them feel. In some cases, this may cause you to start sleeping or sitting in ways that lead to more pain even without realizing it. These changes can be completely unnoticeable to others, but if you start moving your hands and arms differently, pain may be the result.
  • Over-sensitivity to Natural Arm Pain Arm pain also happens all the time. If you sleep on your arm in an uncomfortable position, or you don't exercise enough, or you accidentally tweak your arm a little - all of these can cause arm pain that is natural and usually, short-lived. However, those suffering from anxiety and panic attacks often can't help but focus too strongly on any pains, and thus think the arm pain is abnormal even when it is not.
  • Psychosomatic Anxiety does have some unfortunate consequences, and one of them is that it's possible to feel pains that may not be there because your mind is looking for them. Ask yourself if your pain started, or starting becoming more frequent after thinking about pain. A common example is when someone with anxiety learns about heart attack pains. Many people find that after they learn that heart attacks cause pain to radiate down the left arm and chest, they start to experience pain more often in these areas.

Anxiety Arm Pain Treatment

For those whose arm pain is caused by anxiety, there's no need to be too concerned. Anxiety cannot cause any long-term damage to your arm, and once you learn to control your anxiety the arm pain will go away. Three ways to reduce your arm pain include:

  • Moving and massaging the arm.
  • Distracting yourself from the pain.
  • Taking painkillers.

These are only temporary fixes, but they'll reduce some of the severity of the arm pain and make living with arm discomfort easier. You'll also need to find a way to manage and cope with your anxiety.

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!

Ask Doctor a Question

Question:

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

– Anonymous patient

Answer:

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.

Ask Doctor a Question

Read This Next

This is a highly respected resource Trusted Source

🍪 Pssst, we have Cookies!

We use Cookies to give you the best online experience. More information can be found here. By continuing you accept the use of Cookies in accordance with our Cookie Policy.