Physical Symptoms

Anxiety as the Cause of Muscle Spasms

Micah Abraham, BSc

Written by

Micah Abraham, BSc

Last updated October 10, 2020

Anxiety as the Cause of Muscle Spasms

Anxiety can cause a lot of frightening conditions, especially if you find yourself worried about your health often. Muscle spasms are one such condition. Many people experience strange muscle spasms with anxiety, and in some cases these spasm can cause significant distress and further anxiety.

Muscle spasms are sudden, involuntary muscle movements. They're often very small, like a twitch or kicking out, and they usually come and go fairly quickly. They may also be cramps - long, drawn out muscle pain that is also considered a type of muscle spasm. Both of these may be caused by anxiety.

Causes of Muscle Spasms From Anxiety

Muscle spasms occur often, and not just in those with anxiety. Many people experience spasms after running or spasms while dehydrated. If your spasms are becoming a concern, talk to a doctor.

Muscle spasms are generally not something to worry about unless they're severe and frequent, but it's never a bad idea to visit a doctor for advice. The most common causes of spasms include:

  • Dehydration
  • Muscle Tiredness/Fatigue

Anxiety is a disorder that makes people assume that even normal physical sensations that most people simply ignore are caused by something more serious. People experience muscle spasms and tell themselves it must be something worse, like diabetes and multiple sclerosis. These types of worries are a side effect of anxiety.

Anxiety can also cause muscle spasms. The most common reasons for spasms include:

  • Muscle Tension Anxiety causes a considerable amount of muscle tension, and muscle tension can lead to both cramping and spasms. Muscle tension is a lot like exercise - it tires out the muscles and causes them to spasm as a result.
  • Adrenaline Rushes Anxiety can also cause considerable excess adrenaline. Adrenaline excites the nervous system, and when it courses through your muscles it can make them "need" to move. Remember, anxiety is the activation of the fight-or-flight system. Your body is preparing to fight or flee, and so it's no surprise that your muscles get restless.
  • Inactivity Those with anxiety are less likely to be active than those without anxiety, presumably because their anxiety leaves them more drained and less energetic. Inactivity depletes resources from the muscles, and the muscles respond by being over-excited, leading to muscle contractions.
  • Dehydration For reasons that are not entirely clear, those with anxiety also are more prone to dehydration, which means more muscle spasms. It may be because the fight-or-flight system uses up a lot of water via sweating and urination, and most people don't drink enough water anyway.

There may be other potential causes as well. During anxiety and anxiety attacks, the body experiences severe stress, and to respond to that stress it uses up nutrients in the muscles and bones, like magnesium. These nutrients may be necessary for proper nerve functioning, and in some cases can cause your muscles to contract or spasm as a result. These are all potential links between muscle spasms and anxiety.

How to Control Anxiety Muscle Spasms

Muscle spasms are involuntary reactions, and they generally go away within a few minutes. That means that there isn't much you can do in a middle of a spasm to stop it, and if you're still struggling with anxiety you're likely to keep struggling with muscle spasms. However, there are a few things you can try to reduce not only the spasms, but how much worry the spasms cause you.

  • Move More Because those with anxiety tend to be inactive, moving more often can decrease the likelihood of a spasm. Getting up and walking around more often is a simple and easy way to start, and can quickly have you getting the blood flowing through your muscles.
  • Exercise Exercises uses up unused adrenaline, which in turn should decrease the likelihood of a spasm. Exercise itself may increase spasms, however, as the muscle recovers. But in these cases your brain will process the exercise as an "excuse" for the spasm. If you're someone that responds to your spasms with anxiety, you may experience less anxiety knowing your spasm was caused by your workout.
  • Drink Water Of course, hydration is always an important tool for reducing muscle spasms. If your drink is fortified with electrolytes it may be beneficial as well, as electrolyte loss may also be the cause of some spasms.

You can also consider taking vitamin supplements like magnesium, and some experts recommend stretching when the muscle has a tendency to spasms.

Still, all of these are only temporary solutions. If you have anxiety muscle spasms, then your spasms will continue if you're still suffering from anxiety. I strongly recommend you commit to an anxiety treatment in order to stop your anxiety forever.

Questions? Comments?

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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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