Physical Symptoms

How Anxiety May Cause Muscle Cramps

Micah Abraham, BSc

Written by

Micah Abraham, BSc

Last updated October 10th, 2020

How Anxiety May Cause Muscle Cramps

Anxiety can cause a host of unfortunate aches and pains that make it even more challenging to manage your anxiety. It's hard enough to handle all of the stressful thoughts you have shooting around in your mind. It gets much harder when you also have to try to live through physical ailments that arise from your anxiety.

This is the case with muscle cramps - a common anxiety symptom that makes it much harder to go about your day to day life. This article will explore muscle cramps related to anxiety as well as how to overcome them.

Causes of Muscle Cramps From Anxiety

While most people have experienced muscle issues as a result of anxiety, cramping itself is not traditionally thought of as an anxiety symptom. Nevertheless, it is actually fairly common. While any severe muscle cramps should be seen by a doctor, those with anxiety do tend to develop muscle spasms and cramping in a way that those without anxiety rarely experience. If you experience more cramping when you have anxiety, there's a good chance that the two are related.

What causes the muscle cramps are a bit less obvious. The following are the most common and likely causes of this type of cramping:

  • Muscle Rigidity This symptom is often caused by stress, and anxiety is a stressful experience. When stressed the nervous system can put additional pressure on the blood vessels which contracts the muscles. Contracture results in tightening and shortening of the muscle, causing stiffness and pain.
  • Dehydration Dehydration is a cause of muscle cramping even for those without anxiety. But dehydration may in some ways be more common if you have anxiety for two reasons. First, some people find that anxiety causes them to urinate and sweat more which may lead to faster dehydration. Second, anxiety can make people feel less thirsty, which in turn means they're not drinking as much water as they should be.
  • Tension Anxiety causes significant muscle tension, and this can lead to two different issues that cause more cramping. When the muscles are tense they may need to spasm (cramp) in order to rebuild some of their energy. In addition, tense muscles often become tired muscles and tired muscles are also prone to muscle cramping.

The causes of muscle cramping from anxiety are actually not that different from the causes of muscle cramping in those without anxiety. The problem is that when you have anxiety you may find yourself more likely to experience the issues that lead to cramping.

The Other Cause of Anxiety Muscle Cramps

There is also one other thing to realize about muscle cramps and anxiety: sometimes, the cramps have nothing to do with your anxiety, but anxiety makes you focus on and care about the cramps more. Anxiety causes heightened sensitivity which results in you paying more attention to your body. This may cause you to not only "feel" your cramps more than you would without anxiety, but also remember them more than you may have otherwise.

Some people have cramps almost every day and it means nothing, and they forget about the cramps soon after. But those with anxiety may not be able to do that. They may remember each and every time they got a cramp and how often they're occurring. It is important to keep in mind that anxiety may not be causing muscle cramps at all, but anxiety is what makes them more noticeable and memorable.

How to Stop Muscle Cramps

No matter what causes the cramping (anxiety or otherwise) the remedy for muscle cramps is the same. Drink plenty of water to ensure that your body is not dehydrated; 11-15 cups is the recommended average. Try to move more often so that you are able to warm up your muscles and prevent them from tensing or getting rigid. Exercise more so that your muscles are in better shape (although exercise can lead to some cramping). And, improve your diet to ensure that your cramping isn't caused by a need for any vitamins or minerals.

Having anxiety that contributes to muscle cramping can only be truly managed by seeking treatment for your anxiety. While taking the steps mentioned above is a great start, they will not address the underlying problem which is 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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