Physical Symptoms

How to Minimize Muscle Aches Associated with Anxiety

Micah Abraham, BSc

Written by

Micah Abraham, BSc

Last updated November 25th, 2020

How to Minimize Muscle Aches Associated with Anxiety

Muscle aches are one of the most well-known symptoms of anxiety and stress. It often seems that after an extended period of stress, the body tenses and muscles begin to develop uncomfortable symptoms.

These types of muscle aches are usually a minor inconvenience, but others find that they can become a tremendous problem, making them severely uncomfortable and possibly leading to behavioral changes.

Why Muscles Ache

Anxiety exacerbates long-term stress and the release of adrenaline from your fight or flight system. These responses affect the muscles and the way your body interacts with them. 

When you have anxiety, you cause many issues that lead to muscle tension:

  • As adrenaline pumps through your body, your blood vessels constrict. That causes your muscles not to receive the blood flow they need, which in turn causes them stress that leads to tension and aches.
  • Your body is also sending messages to your muscles to prepare to fight or flee. Then, when no fighting or fleeing occurs, your muscles get fatigued and stressed. This also leads to tension.
  • Anxiety affects your hormones, which are chemical messengers that your body uses to send signals to your muscles and nerves, as well as neurotransmitters which provide a similar action straight from your brain. When these are off balance as a result of anxiety, aching is possible.

Not all muscle aches come straight from your body's reactions to stress either. Some of them come from the way you, yourself, respond when you're stressed. For example, many people with anxiety end up slouching more, or avoiding exercise, or sleeping longer. All of these can actually lead to muscle aches and tension themselves, simply because the changes in behaviors stretch and push on your muscles.

As you can see, there are many reasons that anxiety causes muscle tension, and all of that muscle tension can lead to muscle aches.

How to Stop Anxiety Muscle Aches

As soon as your muscles start to ache, treatment is not unlike muscle aches from exercise or injury. These aches are simply your muscle's way of rebuilding themselves and ensuring they're in the best of health. So if you want, you can treat these aches using many of the same tactics that you would use to treat any of those aches, such as:

  • Hot shower
  • Over the counter painkillers
  • Stretching

Loosening up your muscles can be very effective at relieving some of the tension that you feel which in turn will decrease the aches that you experience. Some solutions that are specific to anxiety include:

  • Massage It's not clear exactly why massage also seems to help with anxiety, but it's likely that the stress-release activity combined with the good feelings you get in your muscles after the massage is over has anxiety reduction benefits.
  • Exercise Exercise may create muscle aches in some ways, but over time it will improve your muscle's ability to respond to stress, and should decrease your anxiety as well. Exercise can be very effective for controlling muscle tension.
  • Yoga Yoga is, of course, a form of exercise. But many people find that yoga seems to have its own benefits for anxiety symptoms, especially muscle tension. Yoga can help improve muscle movement and stretch them out to decrease future tension.

One of the most important things is to keep in mind is that you need to make sure you don't let your muscle aches overcome you. Ideally, you need to stay active, fight through it, and do your best to make sure that you're still taking steps to control your anxiety.

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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