Anxiety can cause symptoms that sometimes seem inexplicable. Because some symptoms are not easily understood in how they connect to anxiety, many people end up thinking they are suffering from an additional issue or health-related problem.
Leg pain is a prime example of this. Most people struggle to understand how and why leg pain is related to anxiety, but the reality is that the connection is very real. While leg pain does not affect everyone with anxiety, it can have a significant impact on some.
How Does Anxiety Cause Leg Pain?
Leg pain is not a common symptom of anxiety by any means. But some people do experience this symptom, especially those who have anxiety attacks. The underlying causes of the leg pain, and the type of pain, may differ from person to person. Some of the more common experiences are:
- Hyperventilation Cramping Hyperventilation cramping is the most common cause of leg pain in those with anxiety. Although it may occur at any time, it is especially likely during panic attacks when people are more prone to hyperventilating. Muscles become drained of the proper balance of carbon dioxide, causing cramping.
- Muscle Tension Muscle tension is also a fairly common cause of leg pain in those with anxiety. When a person feels high levels of stress, the muscles tend to become tense, and this tension, over long periods of time, can leave legs feeling achy.
- Sleep Tossing and Turning Those living with anxiety often have difficulty sleeping, and end up tossing and turning throughout the night. This increases one’s likelihood of ending up in positions that put considerable stress on the legs and joints.
- Perceived Pain A common problem for those living with anxiety is a hypersensitivity to pain from issues that are normal/natural. Your body has very small aches and pains every day. Some of these pains are so mild or natural, that those without anxiety often don't even notice the pain. But those with anxiety may be extra sensitive to pain, leading to a greater level of perceived pain.
These are only some of the ways that anxiety can lead to leg and leg related pains.
Is Leg Pain from Anxiety Dangerous?
When leg pain is caused by anxiety, there is no danger to one’s health. Despite how uncomfortable it can feel, anxiety related leg pain is merely a response to the way your body is experiencing stress. Finding ways to manage and alleviate the leg pain is important.
That said, it is still a good idea to see a doctor and make sure that your leg pain is anxiety related. Only a doctor can rule out other leg pain issues.
How to Reduce the Leg Pain From Anxiety
When leg pain is caused by anxiety, it can be helpful to learn ways to reduce the anxiety and, in turn, the leg pain should dissipate. There are a few things someone suffering from anxiety-induced leg pain can do in the moment including:
- Regaining CO2 Balance Anxiety and panic can lead to hyperventilation, which occurs when one’s oxygen/CO2 balance is off. Hyperventilation often leads to leg cramping. Thus, in order to avoid this, a person must learn to slow down his or her breathing (on both the inhale and the exhale), and through taking deep-belly breaths.
- Distractions Because those with anxiety often exacerbate the intensity of the leg pain based on the common negative thought patterns, distractions can be a big help. Any type of distraction that consumes one’s senses (essentially distracting from the thoughts) could be helpful such as reading or calling a friend.
- Lying Comfortably While not a definite cure for leg pain, lying down for a few minutes and closing one’s eyes can be comforting and take some of the physical stress off of the legs. The comfort of laying somewhere soft may also be relaxing for your anxiety.
None of these are permanent fixes or cures, as anxiety is not something that is necessarily curable. Regardless, learning ways to manage one’s anxiety can help relieve the associated leg pain, and other symptoms so they do not have such a significant impact.
Leg pain from anxiety can be caused by cramps, muscle tension, sleeping issues, and even walking/posture issues caused by anxiety. Anxiety also may increase the perception of pain. Taking your mind off your leg is the first step, but reducing anxiety is the only long term fix.