Joint pain is most often related to getting older and exercising. So it's a bit surprising that joint pain can be caused by changes in your mental health. Yet many people experience joint pain from anxiety on a regular basis, and in some cases that joint pain can be enough to alter a person's day to day movements.
Joint pain is a complex anxiety symptom and one that may be as much mental as it is physical. But the pain is genuine, and in many cases, it is a type of pain that is hard to control and harder to overcome.
Joint Pain = Anxiety?
Anxiety can cause a lot of body changes, but can it cause joint pain? Make sure you take my free 7-minute anxiety test and use it to better understand your joint discomfort and how they interact with anxiety.
The Links Between Anxiety and Joint Pain
The first thing that you need to ask yourself is whether or not you have anxiety at all. Joint pain is never a standalone symptom of anxiety. It's something that develops as your anxiety develops. Take my anxiety test here to learn more about your anxiety and how to treat it.
Anxiety and joint pain enjoy a complicated relationship, and one that is not nearly as simple as saying "anxiety causes joint pain." The reality is that anxiety causes problems that affect the creation and experience of joint pain. Some people absolutely will get joint pain from anxiety, but not everyone that claims to experience joint pain is necessarily experiencing the pain they believe.
Causes of anxiety joint pain include:
- Altered Movements Anxiety, especially panic attacks, can change the way you move, sit, and act. You may shake your leg or sit in a way that is more comfortable for you. You may exercise less, cross your legs, lay down more - you change a lot of your behaviors as a response to your anxiety. These changes can, unfortunately, create their own joint pain. Any time your behaviors and movements change in a way that your body isn't used to can lead to joint pain as a result.
- Stress Inflammation One of the most common issues inside the body caused by stress is inflammation. Since anxiety causes long-term stress, inflammation is more likely. That same inflammation may cause your joints to swell, which ultimately leads to more pain with your movements.
- Immune System Dysfunction Anxiety and stress also affect your immune system, and it's been well known that a weakened immune system can lead to feelings of joint pressure and distress. It's not entirely clear what's happening inside your body, but there is likely a strong connection between these two issues.
- Muscle Tension Anxiety also causes significant muscle tension, which leads to stiffness. Stiff muscles can cause your joints to work harder, and that means that they're going to become inflamed and experience further discomfort. Tension itself may also put pressure on the joints in its own way that may also lead to pain.
- Perceived Pain Healthy people may find their joints hurting on any given day. It's fairly common, based on the way you slept, the way you are sitting, etc. But when you have anxiety, you are far more prone to experiencing that pain in a more pronounced way, and also being unable to ignore it to go about your day. Often those with anxiety have the same aches and pains than others, but the inability to focus on something else makes them far more painful.
Joint pain and discomfort can be incredibly complex, and it's possible that the relationship between your own joint pain and anxiety is not as simple as what is listed above. Stress and anxiety affect nutrition, they affect hormones, they affect organ function - they affect everything that is involved in the way the body works. That's why the link between joint pain and anxiety may not ever be fully clear.
How to Overcome Anxiety Related Joint Pain
Joint pain is still joint pain, and so even when it's caused by anxiety, it can be addressed through traditional joint pain treatments. Seeing a doctor is always a smart idea to rule out any joint pain problems that may be unrelated to anxiety and to get recommendations for specific ways to address this type of joint issue.
Some people find over the counter painkillers to work, but it's not advised to use any medicine if you can avoid it. You can also try glucosamine and chondroitin supplements. These natural supplements are believed to nourish the joints for those living with arthritis but may be valuable for those that have joint pain regularly.
Stretching and looking at your movements is also important. Make sure that you are not doing anything to regularly contribute to your joint discomfort. You may be sitting oddly, shaking often, or avoiding exercise that could strengthen your muscles and improve joint mobility. Stretching is also important, as is hydration, so make sure you are doing those as well.
Reducing Anxiety to Fight Joint Pain
Still, the main thing you need to do is reduce your anxiety. If anxiety is causing your joint pain, then the only way to ensure that it will go away completely is to stop experiencing anxiety. Unless you control your anxiety, you are going to constantly struggle with not only joint pain but also all of the other anxiety symptoms that make it so hard to enjoy your life.
Start curing anxiety today. I've worked with thousands of people with joint pain and anxiety, starting with my free 7-minute anxiety test. It's the only way to get accurate information about your anxiety and give you great tools to treat it.
Author: Micah Abraham, BSc Psychology, last updated Nov 30, 2017.