anxietycentre card

Back Pain Soreness Stiffness Tension Anxiety

Written by Jim Folk
Medically reviewed by Marilyn Folk, BScN.
Last updated May 19, 2021

Back Pain, Stiffness, Soreness, Tension, Spasms, Immobility - anxiety symptoms

Back pain, including chronic stiffness, soreness, tension, and spasms are often symptoms of anxiety disorder, including generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder, panic disorder, and others.

To see if anxiety might be playing a role in your anxiety symptoms, rate your level of anxiety using our free one-minute instant results Anxiety Test or Anxiety Disorder Test. The higher the rating, the more likely it could be contributing to your anxiety symptoms, including back pain anxiety symptoms.

This article explains the relationship between anxiety and back pain, stiffness, and soreness symptoms.

Back pain, stiffness, soreness, spasms, immobility anxiety symptoms common descriptions:

Because anxiety symptoms are often described in subjective terms, there can be many descriptions of this anxiety back pain symptom. Here are some of the more common descriptions of this back pain symptom:

  • You experience frequent back pain, stiffness, soreness, spasms, immobility anxiety symptoms.
  • It feels as if your back is often painful, stiff, and sore.
  • Your back is so sore that it causes restriction to mobility.
  • You regularly, and without apparent reason, experience back pain, stiffness, and soreness.
  • You feel a constant tension, soreness, and pain in your back from seemingly normal tasks.
  • You may have a difficult time sleeping due to chronic back pain.
  • You find you are taking pain relievers more frequently because of unrelieved back pain, stiffness, and soreness.
  • You find that the muscles in your back frequently spasm.
  • You experience frequent muscle spasms due to ongoing back pain and stiffness.

These back pain, stiffness, soreness, spasms, and immobility anxiety symptoms can persistently affect one area of the back only, can shift and affect another area or areas in the back, and can migrate all over and affect many areas of the back over and over again.

These back pain, stiffness, soreness, spasms, and immobility anxiety symptoms can come and go rarely, occur frequently, or persist indefinitely. For example, you may feel back pain once and a while and not that often, feel it off and on, or feel it all the time.

This symptom can precede, accompany, or follow an escalation of other anxiety sensations and symptoms, or occur by itself. It can also precede, accompany, or follow an episode of nervousness, anxiety, fear, and elevated stress, or occur “out of the blue” and for no apparent reason.

Back pain, stiffness, soreness, spasms, and immobility anxiety symptoms can range in intensity from slight, to moderate, to severe. It can also come in waves where it’s strong one moment and eases off the next.

Back pain anxiety symptoms can change from day to day and from moment to moment.

All of the above combinations and variations are common.

These back pain, stiffness, soreness, spasms, and immobility anxiety symptoms often seem more disconcerting when undistracted or when trying to rest or go to sleep.

---------- Advertisement - Article Continues Below ----------

---------- Advertisement Ends ----------

How does anxiety cause back pain, stiffness, soreness, spasms, and immobility symptoms?

Medical Advisory

Stress, including anxiety-caused stress, can cause back problems, including the symptoms we listed above.[1][2][3]

1. Stress response

When back pain, stiffness, soreness, tension, and spasms are related to anxiety, behaving apprehensively, which creates anxiety, activates the stress response, also known as the fight or flight response.[4][5]

The stress response causes many body-wide changes that give the body an “emergency boost” when danger is perceived. Because these changes change the body in substantial ways, stress responses stress the body.

A part of the stress response changes include causing muscles to tighten (contract) so that they are more resistant to damage when fighting or fleeing. Tight muscles can be experienced as tightness, stiffness, and tension. In some instances, muscles can tighten so much that they become painful and sore.

As long as a person is stressed and anxious, muscle tension, stiffness, soreness, and pain can persist.

2. Hyperstimulation

When stress responses occur infrequently, the body can recover relatively quickly. When stress responses occur too frequently, however, the body can’t complete its recovery, which can cause the body to remain in a state of semi stress response readiness. We call this state “stress-response hyperstimulation” since stress hormones are stimulants.[6][7]

Hyperstimulation can keep the body stressed and symptomatic, including causing chronic back pain, tension, stiffness, and soreness. Chronic back pain is a common symptom of hyperstimulation.

There are many other reasons why anxiety can cause this symptom. We explain these additional reasons under the symptom “Back Pain” in the Symptoms section in the Recovery Support area of our website. The Symptoms section lists and explains all of the symptoms associated with anxiety.

If you are experiencing persistent back problems, you may want to seek out a doctor or physiotherapist, and one who is familiar with the link between anxiety, stress, and back pain. A knowledgeable doctor’s insight can help you more appropriately address your back issues.

---------- Advertisement - Article Continues Below ----------

---------- Advertisement Ends ----------

How to get rid of back pain, stiffness, soreness, spasms, immobility anxiety symptoms?

Even though back pain symptoms are caused by anxiety and hyperstimulation, there are some relatively quick ways to alleviate muscle tension symptoms, including the muscles in the back.

Short-term solutions include:

  • Anything that reduces your body’s stress can help, such as deep relaxation, rest, and getting good sleep.
  • Regular light to moderate exercise can also help loosen tight muscles, such as those responsible for chronic back pain.
  • Heating pad (heat causes tight muscles to loosen).
  • Having a warm bath.
  • Have a massage.
  • Vibrator on the back (vibration can help loosen tight muscles and stop muscle spasms).
  • Avoiding stimulants (stimulants stress the body).
  • Muscle relaxants.
  • Gentle/mild stretching.
  • Slowing down a hectic schedule or lifestyle.
  • Taking some time off so that your body can reduce its stress.
  • Regular hobby/play time.
  • Whirlpool or hot tub (as long as the heat is comfortable and not distressing).
  • Having fun.
  • Laughter.
  • Being hugged, held, or caressed by your mate, spouse, or loved one.

ANY activity that helps you relax can help alleviate tight muscles.

Certainly, the best way to diminish and eliminate muscle tension symptoms is to faithfully practice the recovery strategies we explain in Chapter 4 and address the underlying factors of your anxiety so that your body’s stress can be sufficiently reduced. This combination provides long-term relief from anxiety- and stress-caused back pain and tension symptoms.

While this symptom in and of itself is not harmful or serious, chronic muscle tension can lead to high blood pressure and increased stress over time. Therefore, it’s wise to take action to address your stress and anxiety so that you can keep your stress within a healthy range, which can prevent stress related health problems down the road.

Nevertheless, as with all symptoms of stress, this symptom will disappear when you’ve done the right work. Therefore this symptom needn’t be a cause for concern.

Play the clip below for Jim Folk's commentary about the anxiety symptom back pain. Jim Folk is the president of

Back pain is a common symptom of elevated stress, including the stress anxiety can cause. Jim Folk experienced all of the anxiety symptoms mentioned at this website, with many to severe degrees during his 12 year struggle with anxiety disorder.

Anxiety Therapy To Relieve Back Pain

If you are having difficulty containing your worry about your back pain symptoms, you may want to connect with one of our recommended anxiety disorder therapists. Working with an experienced anxiety disorder therapist is the most effective way to overcome problematic anxiety, and especially, what seems like unmanageable worry.

The combination of good self-help information and working with an experienced anxiety disorder therapist, coach, or counselor is the most effective way to address anxiety and its many symptoms. Until the core causes of anxiety are addressed – which we call the underlying factors of anxiety – a struggle with anxiety unwellness can return again and again. Dealing with the underlying factors of anxiety is the best way to address problematic anxiety.

Additional Resources

Return to our anxiety disorders signs and symptoms page. Information, support, and therapy for anxiety disorder and its symptoms, including the anxiety symptom back pain.


1. Lundberg, U, et al. “Psychophysiological Stress Responses, Muscle Tension, and Neck and Shoulder Pain among Supermarket Cashiers.” NCBI PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, July 1999.

2. Ellegaard, Hanne , and Birthe D Pedersen. “Stress Is Dominant in Patients with Depression and Chronic Low Back Pain. A Qualitative Study of Psychotherapeutic Interventions for Patients with Non-Specific Low Back Pain of 3–12 Months' Duration.” BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders, BioMed Central, 6 Sept. 2012.

3. Abdallah, Chadi G, and Paul Geha. “Chronic Pain and Chronic Stress: Two Sides of the Same Coin?” NCBI PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, Feb. 2017.

4. Selye, H. (1956). The stress of life. New York, NY, US: McGraw-Hill.

5. Folk, Jim and Folk, Marilyn. “The Stress Response And Anxiety Symptoms.”, August 2019.

6. Hannibal, Kara E., and Mark D. Bishop. “Chronic Stress, Cortisol Dysfunction, and Pain: A Psychoneuroendocrine Rationale for Stress Management in Pain Rehabilitation.” Advances in Pediatrics., U.S. National Library of Medicine, Dec. 2014.

7. Justice, Nicholas J., et al. “Posttraumatic Stress Disorder-Like Induction Elevates β-Amyloid Levels, Which Directly Activates Corticotropin-Releasing Factor Neurons to Exacerbate Stress Responses.” Journal of Neuroscience, Society for Neuroscience, 11 Feb. 2015.