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5 Ways Anxiety is Linked to Joint Pain

March 12, 2018

Joint pain isn’t any fun. Whether it’s an on-and-off achy shoulder or a lingering discomfort in your knee, pain in your joints can cause a great deal of uncertainty and worry. Recurring joint pain may keep you from activities you once enjoyed without limits, and sometimes, depending on the severity of the pain, it can be nerve-wracking to think about the potential of serious underlying issues. That’s not to mention the stress you may experience from considering the realities of different treatment options, the costs of rehabilitation and more.


You’re probably aware that there are dozens of reasons why you might be experiencing joint pain. It could be due to an injury, arthritis, or a host of other things. But one of the questions we find people continually asking is, “Can anxiety cause joint pain?”

Stress can have a lot of negative effects on your body. And yes, consistent stress in your everyday life can absolutely be a contributing factor to joint pain. Of course, it can be a “chicken or the egg” type of situation – anxiety can be making your joint pain worse, or the existence of joint pain in general could be the source of your anxiety. But stressful situations can both directly and indirectly be linked to the discomfort you’re feeling.

While a strengthening routine can alleviate your joint pain, if you’re suffering from anxiety, there are additional things you can do to return to a pain-free life.

With a broken bone or a torn ligament, the pain you’re feeling can be easily attributed to the specific injury you’ve sustained. But anxiety-related pain can be a bit more abstract in how it affects you. Here is a list of five different ways that stress and anxiety can cause joint pain.

  1. Inflammation Creation

Our bodies have physical reactions to stressful situations. Let’s say you’re driving, and someone cuts you off so you have to slam on the brakes. You may feel a pit in your stomach or a rush of adrenaline. That sensation is part of our response. It’s a physiological reaction that occurs during the stress-causing event, and once the moment passes, our body returns to its regular state.

But there is another kind of low-grade, chronic stress, which causes a reaction so subtle you may not even notice it. And while you might not be consciously aware that it’s happening, if your body is in a constant state of responding to anxiety, the “stress hormones” released in response to that stress will elevate and upset the balance in your system.

If these elevated levels don’t have a way of dispersing, either through activity or eventual dissipation of the stressful environment, the hormones will linger in your body and create all kinds of issues. One such issue is increased inflammation in your joints.

2. Additional Strain on Joints

Have you ever found yourself waiting for a friend to arrive so you could go to see a movie? But they’re running late – and as it gets closer and closer to the start time, you notice your foot starts tapping or your leg starts bouncing.

These kinds of movements are common releases for getting through anxious moments. But if you’re experiencing chronic anxiety, the frequency of these repetitive motions could put additional strain on your joints. Conversely, constant stress could lead to a decrease in your normal movement, which also has an adverse efffect. People who face a great deal of stress can be less active or look to spend more time in bed. The less you move your joints, the more susceptible they become to tightness and inflexibility.

3. It’s (Partially) In Your Head

The same person with the same knee pain could have two completely different experiences. In the first situation, they have to stand on the bus on their way to work. Almost immediately, they become aware of the discomfort and have an unpleasant commute.

In the second situation, the person is on vacation, and stands for the same length of time only now, they’re at a concert on the beach instead of being on the city bus. They don’t seem to notice the pain this time around.

In this hypothetical scenario, the person has the same issue with their knee, they just become less aware of the discomfort when they have something enjoyable to focus on. The same can be true for people suffering from chronic anxiety. Stress can change your perception of everything around you. Pain that might be manageable on a stress-free day could become a lot more unbearable when you have a lot to worry about.

4. A Tense Situation

You’ve probably heard people say (or said yourself) something like, “I keep all of my tension in my shoulders.” When we’re anxious, it’s not uncommon to subconsciously tighten up. Hunched shoulders or a clenched jaw are just some of the ways our body tries to compensate for nervous energy.

When our muscles are tense or stiff, they make the joints work harder, which in turn can cause increased inflammation or discomfort. It’s important to be mindful of the specific ways our bodies react to anxiety, and to try and correct the movements or behaviors we subconsciously exhibit before they become problematic.

5. Strength in Immunity

As mentioned before, stress can wreak havoc on your body, and your immune system is no exception. Anxiety can lead to high blood pressure and a host of other issues that will weaken your body’s ability to stay healthy. Additionally, coping methods for stress like smoking or drinking alcohol can further push your body into compromised health.

immune defense

When your body is trying to fight off illness, the pain caused by inflammation will feel much worse. It can be difficult to take care of yourself when you’re dealing with anxiety, but it’s still incredibly important. The healthier you are overall, the less likely you are to experience joint pain and stress, and the better equipped you’ll be to deal with these issues should they still occur.

How To Reduce Anxiety-Induced Joint Pain

If you’re suffering from anxiety that is making your joint pain worse, there are a few things you can do to help. One solution is to focus on your diet. By eating the right foods, you can reduce inflammation and improve your overall well-being. The importance of a balanced, healthy diet cannot be understated for both physical and mental wellness. You should also try to decrease your anxiety levels using a few simple remedies. Many people find that taking long walks helps them to decompress from stressful situations. Listening to music can also be a great way to lower anxiety, as it diverts your attention away from things that may be weighing your mind down. And even light exercise has proven to be a great release. In addition to helping dissipate the hormones built up by anxiety, it can go a long way towards building a better, fitter body.

Contact Lawrence health Wellness Clinic at 519-746-4144 for an exam and assessment of any joint pain symptoms you may be experiencing to help you get on the road to a happier and healthy life.