Anxiety causes symptoms that are often hard to explain. Because anxiety causes negative thinking, it's easy to feel as though these symptoms are caused by something other than anxiety. Many people convince themselves that they have something much more serious when in reality they're simply suffering from the strange nature of anxiety.
Leg pain is a prime example of this. Most people struggle to understand how and why leg pain can be caused by anxiety, but the reality is that the connection is very real, and while it doesn't affect everyone, there are many people living with leg pain right now whose pain is caused by anxiety.
Is Anxiety Causing Your Leg Pain?
Leg pain is a symptom that could be a sign of a serious health issue, but often is simply the result of some unusual body changes from anxiety.
Our free 7-minute anxiety test will help you score your anxiety, compare it to others, and see if it's possible leg pain is a symptom.
How Does Anxiety Cause Leg Pain?
Leg pain is not a "common" symptom of anxiety by any means, but it's not a rare one either. It affects some people more than others - especially those that have anxiety attacks.
Leg pain is also rarely the only symptom. If you haven't yet, take my 7-minute anxiety test. It'll help you discover which symptoms you're experiencing are related to anxiety.
Causes of leg discomfort differ, as do the types of pain. The most common causes include:
- Hyperventilation Cramping Hyperventilation cramping is easily the most common cause of leg pain in those with anxiety. Although it may occur at any time, it is especially common during anxiety attacks. The muscle is drained of the proper balance of carbon dioxide, causing it to cramp up. Hyperventilation is the result of poor breathing habits during periods of anxiety.
- Muscle Tension Muscle tension is also a common cause of leg pain. When you feel intense levels of stress, your muscles tense up as they prepare for fight or flight mode. Unfortunately, this tension can cause significant pain over a long period, often with aches and sharp pains from your muscle as it tries to relax.
- Sleep Tossing and Turning Those living with anxiety are also prone to another issue - tossing and turning in their sleep. The act of tossing and turning isn't much of a problem with leg pain, but there is a tendency to end up in positions that put considerable stress on your legs and joints. This stress can cause pain while you're awake.
- Perceived Pain A common problem for those living with anxiety is perceived pain from issues that are normal/natural. Your body has very small aches and pains every day. Those without anxiety often don't even notice these issues. Those with anxiety tend to focus on them, increasing the severity of the pain and causing it to noticeably disrupt their happiness.
It should also be noted that perceived pain can cause anxiety, rather than the other way around. Those that are overly sensitive to their own body's sensations may be more likely to experience a rush of anxiety when they feel light leg pain, giving the impression that their anxiety is leading to leg pain rather than the other way around.
Is Anxiety Leg Pain Dangerous?
When your leg pain is caused by anxiety, there is no danger to your health. Despite how scary it may feel when you're suffering from serious pain, anxiety related leg pain is merely a response to the way your body is experiencing stress.
As long as you can relieve your anxiety, the leg pain should go away. Don't forget that anxiety can affect your body in strange ways. Even when you're not feeling any anxious thoughts or any other anxiety symptoms, it's possible for your anxiety to cause physical symptoms.
How to Reduce the Leg Pain From Anxiety
When your leg pain is caused by anxiety, you'll need to reduce your anxiety if you hope to control your leg pain. There are a few things you can do right away to cut back on the amount of pain you experience. These include:
- Regaining CO2 Balance Hyperventilation occurs when you throw off the oxygen/CO2 balance in your body. It may feel like you're not getting enough oxygen, but in truth, you're getting too much, and not holding on to enough carbon dioxide. To avoid this type of cramping, slow down your breathing dramatically both when you inhale and when you exhale, and try to breathe through your stomach.
- Distractions Because some aspect of leg pain is often perceived worse as a result of anxiety, giving yourself distractions can be a big help. Any type of distraction that consumes your senses so that you can't focus on your leg is valuable. Consider talking on a phone or going for a jog.
- Laying Comfortably While it's not a perfect strategy, laying down on a soft couch or for a few minutes and closing your eyes can help increase your comfort a bit, and make your leg feel less impactful. Remember that the cause of your leg pain isn't from actual pain sources, so laying down is unlikely to cure it magically. But it does reduce the stress you'll feel about your leg pain because you won't worry about falling or adding to that pain. The comfort of laying somewhere soft may also be relaxing for your anxiety.
None of these are permanent cures, of course, because anxiety isn't something you can relieve in a day. It's a process that involves a considerable amount of work and effort, and it involves carefully understanding each of your anxiety symptoms and learning to react to them accordingly.
I've helped hundreds of people with leg pain relieve their symptoms, but the key is to start with my 7-minute anxiety test. It's a free test that is designed to give you a visual snapshot of your anxiety and how it affects you, including:
- Comparing your anxiety to others living with anxiety symptoms.
- Seeing how each of your symptoms affects you.
- Learning what types of anxiety you may be suffering from.
It's the most important first step before discovering a more effective treatment. If you haven't done so already, take my 7-minute anxiety test here.
Author: Micah Abraham, BSc Psychology, last updated Nov 30, 2017.