Physical Symptoms

How Anxiety and Muscle Pain Relate

Micah Abraham, BSc

Written by

Micah Abraham, BSc

Last updated October 10, 2020

How Anxiety and Muscle Pain Relate

Anxiety can affect many different parts of your body. It's not just mental - it can cause very significant physical symptoms and reactions that can drastically change your ability to live and function normally and comfortably.

It should come as no surprise that anxiety can be incredibly distressing. But what you may not know is that anxiety can also affect you indirectly by, for example, causing physical reactions that sideline you from the things you love. One example of this type of response is muscle pain, which affects many people with anxiety and can, in some ways, lead to further anxiety. Furthermore, muscle pain can stop a person from going out, seeing friends, or playing sport, for example, making it harder for that person to enjoy recreational activities that others normally engage in.

Muscle Pain is a Complicated Issue

So many different issues can cause muscle pain. But there's no denying that anxiety can have a very significant effect on your muscles. Just a small sample of explanations for the links between anxiety and muscle pain include:

  • Muscle Tension The most common cause of muscle discomfort from anxiety is tension. Muscle tension is a common anxiety symptom, occurring especially when you're experiencing stress. Tension puts strain on your muscles and hardens them, which over time can cause your muscles to experience both dull and sharp pains.
  • Stress Adjustments In ways you may not realize, anxiety may also cause you to change the way you sit, the way you stand, how often you stretch, and more. It's not uncommon for those with anxiety to be constantly moving or acting differently than they used to in minor ways they don't even realize - from slouching to shifting to ticks or pacing. These adjustments may lead to their own muscle stress, which in turn can cause muscle pain.
  • Notice All Pain Muscle pain is a common problem that can potentially affect everyone - even people who don’t have anxiety. Most people can ignore the pains, but those with anxiety are more prone to noticing all types of pain and experiencing it more strongly because their minds tend to automatically interpret things in a negative way. They are also highly vigilant about what’s going on in their body and may pick up on sensations that others might not have noticed. This is known as "hypersensitivity/hypervigilance" and it is very common in those with anxiety disorders.
  • Nutrition, Exercise, and Hydration When you have anxiety, you may also find yourself exercising less, eating poorly, and not drinking enough water. All of those can lead to further anxiety, which can cause or exacerbate muscle pains. Eating healthily, exercising frequently, and drinking more water is likely to improve the way that you feel, although this will not necessarily eliminate your anxiety.

Those are just a few of the potential reasons that anxiety and muscle pain are related. Some people also find that their hyperventilation (a symptom of panic attacks) causes muscle pain. Others toss and turn at night or sleep in uncomfortable positions because of their anxiety. There are a lot of different causes that are either linked directly to anxiety or occur because of anxiety symptoms.

Checking Your Health - Living With Muscle Pain

If you haven't been to the doctor for a while and your pain is significant enough that you’re being severely affected, it's never a bad plan to visit a doctor. Remember, aging itself is associated with muscle pain as well, so there may be a perfectly understandable explanation for what you’re going through.

For you to overcome your own muscle pain, you need to address that pain the same way that you would with muscle pain caused by exercise, exertion, or even sleeping in an uncomfortable position. For example:

  • Stretch often and make sure you're moving around.
  • Hydrate and eat healthily to nourish the muscles.
  • Exercise regularly so as to keep your muscles toned.
  • Get plenty of rest and make sure you're sitting and standing with good posture.

You could also consider massages and other calming ways to address muscle pain. Anxiety may cause or worsen muscle pain, but it’s still just muscle pain after all - the same as that experienced by people who don’t have anxiety. However, if anxiety is truly causing all of your muscle pain, you’re likely to get a large degree of relief by tackling the issue at its core and getting treatment for 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!

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Where can I go to learn more about Jacobson’s relaxation technique and other similar methods?

– Anonymous patient


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.

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