Joint Pain, Stiffness, Tenderness anxiety symptoms

Written by Jim Folk
Medically reviewed by Marilyn Folk, BScN.
Last updated January 22, 2022

joint pain stiffness tenderness anxiety symptom

Joint pain, stiffness, and tenderness is a common anxiety disorder symptom, including anxiety and panic attacks, generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder, and obsessive-compulsive disorder, to name a few.

Joint pain, stiffness, and tenderness can affect any age group and often is more severe as the degree of hyperstimulation increases.

This article explains the relationship between anxiety and joint symptoms, such as pain, stiffness, and tenderness.

Joint Pain, Stiffness Common Symptom Descriptions

  • One or many of your body’s joints are sore and stiff.
  • There could be swelling in the sore and stiff joint, or not and it looks normal.
  • One or many joints feel unusually painful and might feel stiff to move.
  • One or many joints are swollen, painful, and stiff.
  • While you might not notice joint pain during normal activities, it can become a problem with the joint is banged or stubbed.

This symptom can affect one joint only, shift and affect another joint or joints, or affect many or all of them.

This symptom can occur occasionally, frequently, or persistently.

It can precede, accompany, or follow an escalation of other anxiety sensations and symptoms or occur by itself.

This symptom can precede, accompany, or follow a period of nervousness, anxiety, fear, and stress, or occur "out of the blue" and for no apparent reason.

It can also range in intensity from slight, to moderate, to severe. The joint(s) can also be sore one day and seemingly fine the next. Sore and stiff joints can also become a constant problem during your struggle with anxiety disorder.

All combinations and variations of the above are common.

Sore and stiff joints can seem more noticeable when undistracted, resting, trying to sleep, or when waking up.

To see if anxiety might be playing a role in your symptoms, rate your level of anxiety using our free one-minute instant results Anxiety Test, Anxiety Disorder Test, or Hyperstimulation Test.

The higher the rating, the more likely anxiety could be contributing to or causing your anxiety symptoms, including feeling like impending doom symptoms.

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


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

Causes

Medical Advisory

Talk to your doctor about all new, changing, persistent, and returning symptoms as some medical conditions and medications can cause anxiety-like symptoms.

Click the link for Additional Medical Advisory Information.

When anxiety is the sole cause of sore, stiff, and tender joints:

Chronic stress (hyperstimulation)

Anxious behavior, such as worry, activates the stress response, which prepares the body for emergency action.

This survival reaction is often referred to as the fight or flight response, the emergency response, the fight, flight, or freeze response (some people freeze when they are afraid like a “deer caught in headlights”), or the fight, flight, freeze, or faint response (since some people faint when they are afraid).[1][2]

Visit our “Stress Response” article for more information about its many changes.

A few of these changes include:

  • Causes muscles to tighten.
  • Activates the immune system.
  • Suppresses the inflammatory response.

These actions can temporarily help us when fighting or fleeing.

When stress responses occur infrequently, the body can recover relatively quickly from the many stress response changes.

However, frequent activation of the stress response, such as from overly apprehensive behavior, can leave the body in a state of semi-stress response readiness, which we call “stress-response hyperstimulation” since stress hormones are powerful stimulants.

Hyperstimulation is also often referred to as “hyperarousal,” “HPA axis dysfunction,” or “nervous system dysregulation.”[3][4]

Visit our “Hyperstimulation” article for more information about the many ways hyperstimulation can affect the body and how we feel.

Regarding joint pain and stiffness, chronic muscle tension can put undue pressure on joints, causing pain and stiffness.

Chronic muscle tension can also irritate bursas near major joints, causing pain and stiffness around the joints.

Furthermore, while acute stress can enhance the immune response and suppress the inflammatory response, chronic stress (hyperstimulation) can suppress the immune response and increase inflammation,[5] causing joint pain and stiffness.

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


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

2. Other Factors

Other factors can stress the body, causing and contributing to this symptom, such as:

Medication

Prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) medications can mimic, cause, and aggravate anxiety symptoms.

Talk with your doctor and pharmacist about your medication if you aren't sure if its playing a role in your symptoms, including joint pain, stiffness, and tenderness.

Visit our Medication article for more information.

Recreational Drugs

Many recreational drugs can cause and aggravate anxiety symptoms. Especially those that affect the nervous system.

Visit our Recreational Drugs article for more information.

Stimulants

Stimulants bring about their stimulating effect by causing the secretion of stress hormones.

Increasing the body’s stimulation can cause and aggravate existing anxiety symptoms.

Visit our Stimulants article for more information.

Sleep Deprivation

Going without adequate sleep can affect the body in many ways, such as:

  • Prevents the body from sufficiently refreshing itself
  • Stresses the nervous system
  • Impairs brain function
  • Increases blood pressure
  • Increases blood sugar
  • Increases moodiness
  • Increases cortisol to compensate for feeling tired (cortisol is a powerful stress hormone)

These effects can cause and aggravate anxiety symptoms.

Visit our Sleep Deprivation article for more information.

Fatigue

Fatigue can cause and aggravate many anxiety-like symptoms, such as:

To name a few.

Visit our Fatigue article for more information.

Hyper and Hypoventilation

Over and under breathing can also cause anxiety-like symptoms and aggravate existing symptoms.

Visit our Hyper And Hypoventilation article for more information.

Low Blood Sugar

Low blood sugar, even within the normal range, can cause anxiety-like symptoms. Low blood sugar can also aggravate existing anxiety symptoms.

Visit our Low Blood Sugar article for more information.

Nutritional Deficiency

Nutritional deficiencies, such as low vitamin B and D, can cause anxiety-like symptoms. Nutritional deficiencies can also aggravate existing anxiety symptoms.

Visit our Nutritional Deficiency article for more information.

Dehydration

Dehydration can also cause anxiety-like symptoms and aggravate existing anxiety symptoms, such as:

To name a few.

Visit our Dehydration article for more information.

Hormone Changes

Hormones affect the body in many ways and can affect each other. Hormone changes can cause anxiety-like symptoms and aggravate existing anxiety symptoms.

Visit our Hormone Changes article for more information.

Pain

Pain stresses the body, especially chronic pain. If the pain is in the high degree range, it can cause and aggravate hyperstimulation.

If you are anxious, hyperstimulated, and symptomatic, pain can aggravate them all.

Visit our Pain article for more information.

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


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

Treatment

When other factors cause or aggravate this anxiety symptom, addressing the specific factor(s) can reduce and cause this anxiety symptom to subside.

When an active stress response causes this symptom, ending the active stress response will end this symptom.

Keep in mind that it can take up to 20 minutes or more for the body to recover from a major stress response. But this is normal and needn’t be a cause for concern.

When hyperstimulation (chronic stress) causes joint pain, stiffness, and tenderness, eliminating hyperstimulation will end this symptom.

You can eliminate hyperstimulation by:

  • Reducing stress.
  • Containing anxious behavior (since anxiety creates stress).
  • Regular deep relaxation.
  • Avoiding stimulants.
  • Regular light to moderate exercise.
  • Eating a healthy diet of whole and natural foods.
  • Passively accepting your symptoms until they subside.
  • Being patient as your body recovers.

Visit our “60 Natural Ways To Reduce Stress” article for more ways to reduce stress.

Recovery Support members can view chapters 5, 6, 7, 14 and more for more detailed information about recovering from hyperstimulation and anxiety disorder.

As the body recovers from hyperstimulation, it stops sending symptoms, including this one.

Symptoms of chronic stress subside as the body regains its normal, non-hyperstimulated health.

But eliminating hyperstimulation can take much longer than most people think, causing symptoms to linger as long as the body is even slightly hyperstimulated.

Even so, since this is a symptom of chronic stress (hyperstimulation), it's harmless and needn't cause concern.

Short-term strategies

Even though eliminating stress and chronic stress (hyperstimulation) will eliminate this symptom, some people have found the following strategies helpful.

However, keep in mind that each person can have a unique symptom experience since each person is somewhat physically, chemically, psychologically, and emotionally unique. What might work for one person might not for another.

  • Reduce stress – Since all anxiety symptoms are stress-related, reducing stress can alleviate this symptom. There are many ways to reduce stress. You can read about many natural stress reduction strategies in Chapter 14 in the Recovery Support area.
  • Regular good sleep – Getting good sleep each night (6.5 to 8 hours per night) can significantly reduce stress, which can improve all anxiety symptoms, including this one.
  • Regular deep relaxation – Regular deep relaxation is a great way to reduce stress and overall stimulation. As stress and stimulation diminish, so will anxiety symptoms, including this one.
  • Regular light to moderate exercise – Regular exercise reduces stress and improves stress symptoms. However, we don’t recommend strenuous exercise since it stresses the body. Moreover, regular exercise can maintain healthy muscle tone, important for healthy joints.
  • Massage – Massage can help the body and nervous system relax, which can help muscles release and relax, as well as help the nervous system become less reactive.
  • Keep well hydrated – Dehydration is a common cause of stress-like symptoms. Keeping your body well hydrated can prevent and reduce anxiety-like and anxiety symptoms. Some doctors recommend drinking 2 liters of water per day.
  • Muscle relaxants – Can help release and relax tense muscles.
  • Pain management – If pain has become great, which can further stress the body and aggravate pain, over-the-counter pain medication can be helpful.
  • Prescribed pain medication – If anxiety-caused pain becomes too much for over-the-counter pain medication to alleviate, talk with your doctor about something stronger. Then follow the directions or talk with a pharmacist to avoid addiction problems.
  • Tens machine – If you have a specific muscle or muscle group causing persistent pain or pressure, using a Tens machine can help reduce muscle-related pain and pressure. It can also help diffuse the pain and pressure, so the nervous system stops engaging them. A Tens machine can also disrupt pain neural pathways, preventing them from resonating.
  • Stretching – Gentle stretching is a good way to release tight muscles. As muscle tension is relieved, there is less tension on the joints.
  • Eat a healthy diet – An unhealthy diet of high sugar, high fat, and fast foods can fuel anxiety and hyperstimulation symptoms. Eating a healthy diet of whole and natural foods can help the body recover. Moreover, eating an anti-inflammatory diet can relieve inflammation, causing a reduction in pain and stiffness.
  • Ice – Some people found that icing sore and stiff joints can help reduce inflammation-caused pain and stiffness. Talk with a physiotherapist for more information about ways to reduce sore and stiff joints.

The above short-term strategies are just a few of the many ways we can reduce stress, causing a reduction in anxiety and hyperstimulation symptoms.

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


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

Prevalence

In an online poll we conducted, 67 percent of respondents said they had joint pain and stiffness because of their anxiety.

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


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

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.

anxietycentre.com: Information, support, and therapy for anxiety disorder and its symptoms, including joint pain and stiffness anxiety symptoms.

References

1. Berczi, Istvan. “Walter Cannon's ‘Fight or Flight Response’ - ‘Acute Stress Response.’” Walter Cannon's "Fight or Flight Response"  - "Acute Stress Response", 2017.

2. Godoy, Livea, et al. "A Comprehensive Overview on Stress Neurobiology: Basic Concepts and Clinical Implications." Frontiers In Behavioral Neuroscience, 3, July 2018.

3. Teixeira, Renata Roland, et al. “Chronic Stress Induces a Hyporeactivity of the Autonomic Nervous System in Response to Acute Mental Stressor and Impairs Cognitive Performance in Business Executives.” Current Neurology and Neuroscience Reports., U.S. National Library of Medicine, 2015.

4. Yaribeygi, Habib, et al. “The Impact of Stress on Body Function: A Review.” EXCLI Journal, Leibniz Research Centre for Working Environment and Human Factors, 2017.

5. Liu, Un-Z-, et al. "Inflammation: The Common Pathway of Stress-Related Diseases." Frontiers In Human Neuroscience, 20 June 2017.

6. Davis, Mary, et al. "Chronic Stress and Regulation of Cellular Markers of Inflammation in Rheumatoid Arthritis: Implications for Fatigue." Brain Behavior and Immunity, 15, Aug. 2007.