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Can Anxiety Cause Joint Pain?


Although anxiety affects a large proportion of people, there are many different physical symptoms that affect people in different ways. Despite joint pain being reported as a symptom of anxiety, it’s more that it can be a result of other symptoms of anxiety. 


These symptoms are often triggered by a release of the stress hormone cortisol or the chemical adrenaline in the caveman part of our brain. This is the survival-driven part of our brain that our newer, rational cortex grew on top of. Its primary concern is keeping us alive, so when our brain perceives a threat, it releases these stress chemicals and activates a response called the fight, flight or freeze response. This puts our body on high alert, and as a result, our body prepares to either fight, flight or freeze.


Why Does Anxiety Result In Joint Pain?

There’s a few reasons that anxiety and its accompanying symptoms can result in joint pain. Firstly, anxiety causes excess cortisol to be released, and whilst regular levels of cortisol have anti-inflammatory effects, too much cortisol and stress have been linked to inflammation and consequently swelling in the joints. 


Another reason is down the tensing of the muscles caused by our fight, flight or freeze response being activated. When we tense our muscles for long periods of time, once we release them, our muscles can be stiff and stiff muscles can cause pain in the joints because it forces them to work harder, picking up the slack for the out of action muscles.


There’s also a more psychological reason as to why your joints might be painful. When you’re suffering with anxiety it’s easy to slip down the proverbial rabbit hole when it comes to aches and read more into the niggle you’re feeling. Suddenly slight muscle soreness feels like it could be a torn ligament and you’re worrying about it, sending signals to your brain that this pain is real when it might not be that bad.


How Can I Stop This Symptom?

Joint pain can be a worrying symptom so it’s always best to check with your doctor as to whether it’s anxiety-based or injury-based. This being said, some gentle stretching exercises might be helpful to alleviate some of the pain or some over the counter pain relief if absolutely necessary. It might also be helpful to consider how you’re sitting or sleeping, whether it’s in an unhelpful position for your joints and make changes accordingly. 


Of course, this helps us to stop the symptoms in action, but in order to prevent the symptoms occurring, you need to manage or build strategies to tackle your anxiety. There are several options available including CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy), mindfulness, medication and group therapy. If you’re unsure, please contact your GP for more information.