Anxiety may be a mental health condition, but it has numerous physical symptoms. Most people know about nausea and muscle tension, but few people realize that anxiety can actually cause or contribute to intense, chronic pain.
This article explores just a small sample of the types of pains that can get because of anxiety, why they occur, and information on what you can do to reduce your anxiety pain.
Pain = Anxiety?
Pain can be caused by anxiety, or anxiety can be caused by pain. Talk to your doctor if you have any severe pains, and take my free 7 minute anxiety test to learn more about your anxiety.
The Relationship Between Pain and Anxiety
Pain is a condition that few doctors ignore, and if you feel pain often it is always a smart idea to make sure you talk to your doctor. You should also take my free 7 minute anxiety test to see if you likely have an anxiety issue.
While anxiety can cause pain, pain can also cause anxiety. Many studies have shown that those that live with chronic or recurring pain often develop anxiety disorders because of the constant stress that the pain puts on their body. This anxiety may even last after the pain has been treated.
Oversensitivity and Pain
Similarly, anxiety - especially panic attacks and related anxiety disorders - can make a person "hypersensitive," which is when they are so on edge with regard to their health that they notice every single pain they experience, even when the pain is mild. When the mind focuses on some type of pain, it is not uncommon for that pain to start to feel even worse.
Hypersensitivity can make it harder to tell the difference between normal pain (like those everyone experiences when they age) and troublesome pain. That's why seeing a doctor is always a good idea, despite the likelihood you have anxiety.
Types of Anxiety Pain(s)
Now, let's explore some of the types of anxiety pains. This is not an exhaustive list. One of the strange things about anxiety is that it can cause all sorts of physical symptoms, many of which differ in different people. It can also cause hormonal changes and even mild organ damage which may cause pain in their own ways. For now, here are several of the most common types of pain with anxiety.
- Muscle Pain Muscle pain is by far the most common type of pain. Muscle pain occurs as a result of muscle tension, which can put strain on the muscles and ultimately lead to mild to severe pain. How you adjust to muscle tension may lead to pain also, because many people slouch more or sit awkwardly when they have anxiety.
- Chest Pains Anxiety can lead to hyperventilation, and hyperventilation can cause chest pains. Chest pains are a frightening anxiety symptom, and often actually create more anxiety on their own. Chest pains and hyperventilation are one of the leading causes and symptoms of panic attacks, which can feel to many people like heart attacks.
- Headaches Stress may also cause headaches, and not just typical tension headaches either. While the most common pain is around the temples, some people experience severe migraines which can affect other areas of the brain as well.
- Joint Pain It is not clear how or why anxiety causes joint pain, but it likely has to do with a combination of inflammation, hypersensitivity, and physical/behavioral adjustments that you make when you have anxiety. Joint pain can be a troubling anxiety symptom, but usually the pain is manageable.
- Tingle Pain Anxiety and hyperventilation can lead to tingling hands and feet - sometimes even tingling in other parts of the body as well. In general, this is the same feeling that your body goes through when it is waking up a nerve that's fallen asleep. However, some people experience pain or burning instead of just a tingle. While the it is not clear what makes this different for some people compared to others, the pain can be somewhat pronounced.
- Stomach Pain Anxiety can cause stomach pain as well. Often this is the result of indigestion, as indigestion creates gasses and bloating that may lead to general pains. Some people find that hyperventilation causes them to feel bloated, and this may also lead to stomach pain.
- Eye Pain Eye pain is a less common but still prevalent anxiety symptom. Like some anxiety symptoms, the reason for eye pain isn't necessarily clear. However, the muscles around the eye may strain during stress, and the pupils may dilate when you are feeling anxious which could conceivably cause pain from light and eye strain.
- Back Pain/Shoulder Pain Back pain is also very common with anxiety. Like many other types of pain, back pain and shoulder pain are primarily due to muscle tension. But there may be other factors involved, such as how you sleep when you are anxious and the amount of stretching that you do that can also contribute to these types of pains.
- Throat Pain Throat pain, like a sore throat, may also occur with anxiety. It is likely that anxiety doesn't create the throat pain directly, but could cause changes in stomach acids that lead to acid reflux or cause a coughing habit which can irritate the throat and lead to throat pain.
These are all examples of pains that may be caused by anxiety. They're not exclusive either. Some people report unusual arm pains, leg pains, testicle pain, and more, all of which have a tendency to actually create their own anxiety as the person tries to come to terms with the pain in their daily life.
How to Overcome Pain From Anxiety
Each type of pain has its own symptoms and its own way of interacting with your body, so in order to overcome specific pain, you need to learn more about the pain itself. For example, muscle tension pain can be released through simple stretches, massages, and possibly over the counter pain killers. Throat pain may not have a specific treatment but may benefit from drinking water over the course of the day.
The only true way to stop these types of aches and pains is by overcoming your anxiety. Take my free 7 minute anxiety test now. I use this test to figure out your symptoms and provide an idea of how best to treat them.
Weisenberg, Matisyohu, et al. Relevant and irrelevant anxiety in the reaction to pain. Pain 20.4 (1984): 371-383.
Tang, Judy, and Stephen J. Gibson. A psychophysical evaluation of the relationship between trait anxiety, pain perception, and induced state anxiety. The journal of pain: official journal of the American Pain Society 6.9 (2005): 612.
Author: Micah Abraham, BSc Psychology, last updated Sep 28, 2017.