“All of us at anxietycentre.com have experienced debilitating anxiety. But we’ve also overcome it and returned to normal and lasting health. Because we know the hardship anxiety unwellness can cause, we are committed to helping others, with over 30 years of service.” - Jim Folk, President, anxietycentre.com

Chronic Pain Anxiety Symptoms

Marilyn Folk BScN medical reviewer
Written by: Jim Folk.
Medically reviewed by: Marilyn Folk, BScN.
Last updated: April 3, 2019

Chronic Pain Anxiety Symptoms

Chronic pain anxiety symptoms descriptions:

Anxiety-caused chronic pain can persistently affect one area of the body only, can shift and affect another area or areas, and can migrate all over and affect many areas of the body over and over again.

Anxiety chronic pain can come and go rarely, occur frequently, or persist indefinitely. For example, you may have chronic pain once and a while and not that often, have it off and on, or have it all the time.

Anxiety chronic pain may precede, accompany, or follow an escalation of other anxiety sensations and symptoms, or occur by itself.

Anxiety chronic pain can precede, accompany, or follow an episode of nervousness, anxiety, fear, and elevated stress, or occur ‘out of the blue’ and for no apparent reason.

Anxiety chronic pain can range in intensity from slight, to moderate, to severe. It can also come in waves, where the chronic pain is strong one moment and eases off the next.

Anxiety chronic pain can persist day after day, change from day to day, or change from moment to moment.

All of the above combinations and variations are common.

Anxiety chronic pain often seems stronger and more bothersome when undistracted, trying to relax and rest, or when trying to go to sleep. This chronic pain can also disrupt relaxing, resting, and sleeping.

Many anxiety disorder sufferers have their sleep disrupted because of chronic pain. Many are also on strong pain medications in an attempt to manage the pain.

Some people become immobilized due to the severity of their episodes of chronic pain, with some people being bedridden because of the intensity and severity of their pain.

When anxiety-caused pain persists 24/7 and indefinitely, it’s referred to as ‘chronic pain.’ Fibromyalgia is commonly associated with this type of chronic pain.

Why does anxiety cause chronic pain?

Medical Advisory
Because there are many medical conditions that can cause anxiety and anxiety-like sensations and symptoms, including this one, we recommend that all new, changing, persistent, and returning sensations and symptoms be discussed with your doctor. If your doctor concludes your sensations and symptoms are solely anxiety and/or stress related, you can be confident that there isn't another medical cause. Generally, most doctors can easily determine the difference between anxiety- and stress-caused sensations and symptoms from those caused by other medical reasons.

To be certain, however, you may want to seek a second and even third opinion. If all three opinions agree, you can be assured that stress (including anxiety-caused stress) is the cause of your sensations and symptoms and not another medical or biological reason.

Anxiety and the stress it causes is a common cause of chronic pain. There are several reasons why anxiety can cause chronic pain. Some of the most common include:

1. Stress can cause the body to experience pain.

Research has found that stress, including psychological and emotional stress, can cause issues with pain anywhere on or in the body. While acute stress can cause an analgesic effect (a reduction in pain sensitivity), which we refer to as the pain masking effect (so that pain doesn’t interfere with our ability to defend ourselves when in real danger), chronic stress can cause hyperalgesia (a heightened sensitivity to pain).[1]

Chronic stress can increase pain sensitivity so much that we can experience persistent, and even intense pain, merely due to stress and not because of an injury or medical problem. As the degree of chronic stress increases so can the degree and persistence of pain.

Since apprehensive behavior stresses the body, we can experience issues with pain, including chronic pain, merely from behaving anxiously. As long as our apprehensive behavior persists, so can issues with pain, including chronic pain.

2. Pain stresses the body.[1]

Pain is stressful. As the degree of pain increases, so does the body’s level of stress. And as stress increases, so can our issues with pain, including chronic pain.

3. Stress increases the body’s sensitivity and reactivity to pain.[2]

As our overall level of stress increases, we can experience higher and higher degrees of pain due to how stress increases our sensitivity and reactivity to pain.

4. Stress causes muscles to tighten.
Overly taught muscles can cause pain and tenderness. Persistently tight muscles can become very painful and sore.

When we sense danger, the body produces a stress response, which releases stress hormones into the bloodstream where they travel to targeted spots in the body to bring about specific physiological, psychological, and emotional changes that enhance the body’s ability to deal with a threat—to either fight with or flee from it—which is the reason the stress response is often referred to as the fight or flight response.

A part of the stress response changes cause muscles to contract (tighten). Tight muscles make the body more resilient to attack when in dangerous situations. Unfortunately, when stress is caused by anxiety (worry, fretting, fearful thinking) and not by a real physical threat where tight muscles may be beneficial for survival, the body still prepares against danger the same way…by causing muscles to tense and tighten.

When stress responses occur infrequently, the body can recover relatively quickly from the physiological, psychological, and emotional changes the stress response brings about. But when stress responses occur too frequently and/or dramatically the body has a more difficult time recovering, which can result in the body remaining in a semi hyperstimulated state.

A body that has become hyperstimulated can experience persistent stress response readiness, which in this case, can cause persistent muscle tension and its related consequences, such as muscle aches, pains, tenderness, and soreness. As elevated stress persists, so can muscle-related problems increase and persist.

Muscle tension problems can also affect the body’s joints, which can cause joint problems and pain, tenderness, soreness, and achiness.

5. Stress adversely affects the body’s nervous system, including its nerves and how they function.
The body’s nervous system is responsible for receiving and sending sensory information to the brain. A main component of the nervous system is specialized cells called neurons (nerve cells), which communicate with each other using an electrochemical process (the combination of electricity and chemistry). For example, when a nerve impulse is received from one of our senses, such as from the nerve endings in the dermis layer of the skin, neurons relay this nerve impulse information through the nervous system network to the brain for interpretation.

This system of communication works efficiently when the body and nervous system are healthy. Problems can occur, however, when the nervous system becomes stress-response hyperstimulated.

For example, because of their electrochemical properties, neurons are particularly sensitive to stress hormone stimulation. So when they become overstimulated, they can act erratically and more involuntarily than normal, which can cause them to “misreport,” “over report,” and send “false” nerve impulse information to the brain. These anomalies can cause a wide range of unusual sensory-based sensations and symptoms, including those associated with this symptom.

“Overactive nerves” is another term used to describe this symptom.

Persistently elevated stress can negatively affect any part of the body, including the skin, muscles, nerves and nerve endings, joints, and bones. As a result, body pains can occur anywhere on the body including externally and internally. For some, the pain and tenderness is also accompanied by general fatigue and muscle weakness.

Since each body reacts somewhat differently to stress and anxiety, each experience may be somewhat different. And because many anxiety symptoms are “sensory”— having to do with sensations and feelings—there can be a wide range of ways this symptom can be experienced.

Sometimes these types of symptoms are caused by physical problems, such as infections, muscle tension or strain, sensitive nerves, or inflammation. Other times there is no physical cause. Since the nervous system is responsible for how we receive and interpret sensory information, a stressed nervous system can cause odd and abnormal sensations and feelings even though there is no real physical cause. This is the reason why medical tests can come back normal, yet our sensations and symptoms persist. We FEEL symptomatic even though there isn’t anything medically wrong.

There are other reasons (which we explain in more detail in the Recovery Support area of our website).

I (Jim Folk) experienced pain and chronic pain, too, when I was struggling with anxiety disorder. I know how debilitating it can be.

How to get rid of anxiety chronic pain?

Because anxiety chronic pain is always caused by persistently elevated stress and its adverse effects on the body, reducing your body’s stress and giving it ample time to calm down will eliminate anxiety chronic pain…in time. But it may take more stress reduction and time than you expect. We explain why these types of symptoms can take a long time to subside in spite of our best recovery efforts in Chapters 3 and 4 in the Recovery Support area of our website.

You can speed up the recovery process by reducing your stress, practicing relaxed breathing, increasing your rest and relaxation, and not worrying about this symptom. Sure, anxiety chronic pain can be bothersome, and even debilitating. But again, when your body has fully recovered from being overly stressed, this symptom will completely disappear. Therefore, worrying about anxiety chronic pain is pointless…and can even cause it to persist since worry creates anxiety and anxiety stresses the body.

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

Chronic pain is a common symptom of elevated stress, including the stress anxiety can cause. Jim Folk experienced chronic pain to a severe degree during his 12 year struggle with anxiety disorder.

For a more detailed explanation about all anxiety symptoms, why symptoms can persist long after the stress response has ended, common barriers to recovery and symptom elimination, and more recovery strategies and tips, we have many chapters that address this information in the Recovery Support area of our website.

For more information:

1. AHMAD, Asma Hayati, and Rahimah ZAKARIA. “Pain In Times Of Stress.” Advances in Pediatrics., U.S. National Library of Medicine, Dec. 2015, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4795524/.

2. Geva, N, et al. “Acute Psychosocial Stress Reduces Pain Modulation Capabilities in Healthy Men.” Advances in Pediatrics., U.S. National Library of Medicine, Nov. 2014, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25250721.

3. Zeidan F, Adler-Neal AL, Wells RE, et al. Mindfulness-meditation-based pain relief is not mediated by endogenous opioids. Journal of Neuroscience. 2016;36(11):3391-3397.

The combination of good self-help information and working with an experienced anxiety disorder therapist is the most effective way to address anxiety disorder and its many symptoms. Until the core causes of anxiety are addressed - the underlying factors that motivate apprehensive behavior - a struggle with anxiety disorder can return again and again. Identifying and successfully addressing anxiety's underlying factors is the best way to overcome problematic anxiety.

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