Physical Symptoms

Anxiety and Muscle Spasms

Micah Abraham, BSc

Written by

Micah Abraham, BSc

Last updated October 10th, 2020

Anxiety and Muscle Spasms

Anxiety can produce many unusual and distressing physical sensations. In some cases, these sensations are merely irritating. In other cases, these sensations can actually cause a great deal of distress and interfere significantly with your quality of life. One anxiety-related symptom that many struggle with is the experience of muscle spasms. Muscle spasms can be irritating to some and incredibly distressing to others.

Spasms Can Occur at Any Time

Unlike many other anxiety symptoms, muscle spasms may occur even when you do not have any other obvious signs of anxiety. That's actually one of the reasons that some people get more anxiety when they have spasms - it surprises them and makes them feel as though something must be wrong with their nerves or muscles.

Causes of Spasms

Spasms are involuntary muscle movements, sometimes referred to as "twitches." Cramps are also a type of muscle spasm, but generally when people talk about spasms with anxiety, they're talking about something that makes their body twitch uncontrollably.

Spasms can affect any part of the body, including:

  • Hands
  • Fingers
  • Arms
  • Legs
  • Back
  • Elbows
  • Shoulders

Many people have experienced spasms at night after a considerable amount of walking, exercise, or when they're about to pass into deeper phases of sleep. These types of spasms are unrelated to anxiety, but those with anxiety are more prone to believing that their spasms are problematic. It's important to keep that in mind that some spasms occur naturally with no cause at all, or because of dehydration or exercise. Not all natural spasms relate to anxiety, but many people with anxiety think that their spasms are anxiety or health related.

The exact mechanism that causes spasms is not entirely known. Possible causes of anxiety spasms include:

  • Adrenaline Adrenaline excites the nerves, and is released in large amounts when you experience stress and anxiety. It's likely that adrenaline is activating the muscles which, in turn, causes the muscles to spasm.
  • Nerve Excitation Similarly, anxiety involves stimulation of neurons, or nerve cells. What that stimulation may be is not entirely clear, especially since twitching may occur when the person does not experience any anxiety, but it's possible that the nerves or brain experience changes in nutrition, hydration, or chemical rate in a way that causes them to react.
  • Muscle Stress or Tension Anxiety also puts a great deal of stress on the muscles themselves. It's one of the reasons that muscle pain is a common anxiety symptom. Since overexertion of muscles can lead to twitching, it's possible that this may cause a muscle to twitch uncontrollably.

Even though the causes of this type of twitching are not entirely understood, and even though it can affect any part of the body (often the fingers and arms are the most effected, but even eyelids have been known to twitch), anxiety causing these issues is entirely normal.

How to Control the Twitching

The twitching can often be very disruptive - sometimes beyond "annoying" - and many people find that the spasms cause them further stress about their health or their anxiety.

Controlling these twitches isn't easy, because your nerves typically function automatically and when they fire they cannot be stopped. Controlling your entire nervous system could actually be dangerous if it were possible, because you need to make sure that your nervous system works automatically in order to keep yourself alive.

But there are some ways to potentially decrease the frequency and severity of these spasms. Possible options include:

  • Get Up and Move Exercise and movement, even though it causes spasms in some cases, can also reduce some of the energy that is sent to your muscles that may be causing these types of spasms. Strongly consider getting up, moving around, and shaking the spasms out to see if that helps.
  • Hydrate, Electrolytes, Magnesium There are several mild health issues that can lead to spasms, and what's interesting is that there is some evidence that anxiety can contribute to all of them. For reasons that are unclear, anxiety is potentially linked to dehydration and imbalances of electrolyte and magnesium supplies in the body. All 3 of these factors are also potentially linked to muscular spasms, so making sure you're getting enough of those can be helpful.
  • Warm Bath Warm baths act as a natural muscle relaxant, so if your muscles are creating your spasms it may help. A long, warm bath softens the skin and the muscles, and should give you the opportunity to reduce some of your anxiety as well.

But since spasms will always continue to occur if you still suffer from anxiety, you're going to need to make sure that you're also committed to controlling your underlying anxiety disorder.

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

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