“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

Muscle Weakness Anxiety Symptoms

Jim Folk author
Written by: Jim Folk.
Medically reviewed by: Vitaly Liashko, MD, FRCPS(C)
Last updated: December 8, 2019


muscle weakness anxiety symptoms

Muscle weakness anxiety symptoms can affect any muscle or group of muscles in the body, such as arms, legs, back, neck, fingers, toes, etc. Even though weak, tired, and heavy feeling muscles can be unnerving, they are common anxiety disorder symptoms. This article explains how they feel, why anxiety causes them, and what you can do to stop them.

Muscle weakness anxiety symptoms can feel like:

  • A muscle or group of muscles feel unusually weak, tired, heavy, rubbery, or odd.
  • Some people describe this symptom as their muscles feel wobbly, numb, shaky, and tired.
  • A muscle or group of muscles seem difficult or impossible to move, relax, or loosen.
  • It feels like a muscle or group of muscles seem unusually frail, fatigued, and underpowered. No matter what you do, their “weakness” doesn’t change.
  • It feels like a muscle or group of muscles aren’t properly supporting your body or movements due to feeling limp, listless, and worn out.
  • Others describe their muscles as feeling like they won't work right or too limp to use correctly.
  • Others describe this symptom as feeling like their muscles are unusually heavy or “numb” feeling.
  • Others describe this symptom as that they don't have confidence in their muscles because they don't feel as strong as they used to.
  • Others have said that their muscles feel so weak that they are unsure their muscles will support their body.
  • Other descriptions include weak hands, feet, legs, arms, neck, back, head, and face muscles. They can feel so weak that you become concerned you have a serious medical problem, such as MS, ALS, or Parkinson’s Disease.

Anxiety induced muscle weakness can affect any muscle or group of muscles. It can also involve one particular muscle or group of muscles, or can randomly shift from one muscle or group of muscles to another. It can also include several different muscles or groups of muscles at the same time, or feel like your entire body is weak.

Muscle weakness anxiety symptoms can appear for a few moments and then disappear, can last for minutes or hours, or can persist indefinitely. It can also occur or be more noticeable and bothersome when trying to relax, go to sleep, or when waking up. This anxiety symptom can also be more problematic when you are trying to use the affected muscle or group of muscles, such as when walking or lifting.

The degree and intensity of this muscle weakness anxiety symptom can vary from person to person. For example, one or a group of muscles can be only mildly weak for one person, whereas the weak and tiredness can be intensely noticeable and severely restricting for another person.

Muscle weakness can affect ANY muscle or group of muscles in the body. Many of those who experience stress and anxiety comment about weak muscles in the head and face, mouth, back of the head and neck, back and top of the shoulders, chest, arms, legs, hands, stomach, lower back, groin, and feet.

Some people experience significant discomfort due to their muscle weakness anxiety symptoms. Some people also find their muscle weakness so restricting and debilitating that it impedes physical activity and impairs a normal lifestyle. Some people even become bedridden because they feel so weak.

This muscle weakness anxiety symptom can occur when anxious, stressed, or with other panic attack symptoms, or can happen for no apparent reason. It can also be mildly noticeable, moderately bothersome, or exceedingly problematic. It can change from day to day and even moment to moment.

All combinations and variations are common.



Advertisement


Why does anxiety cause muscle weakness?

Medical Advisory

Anxiety can cause muscle weakness in many ways. It can also cause both a “feeling” of muscle weakness and actual muscle weakness. Here are six of the most common ways anxiety causes muscle weakness symptoms:

1. Stress Response

Anxiety activates the stress response, otherwise known as the fight or flight response. The stress response causes many physiological, psychological, and emotional changes that equip the body for emergency action.[1][2][3]

Some of these changes include:

  • Stimulates the body, including the nervous system.
  • Tightens muscles.
  • Shunts blood away from parts of the body less important for emergency action (such as the digestive system) and to parts that are more important (brain, and muscles).
  • Elevates heart rate.
  • Increases respiration.
  • Increases blood pressure.

To name a few.

These changes can cause “sensations,” such as feeling like your muscles are “weak.” Experiencing weak, tired, or “heavy” muscles is a common stress response experience. Many people notice this type of weakness when afraid. “Weak in the knees” is a common expression heard from people who are anxious, nervous, or afraid.

For a more detailed explanation about the many changes, see our “Stress Response” article.

2. Hyperventilation and Hypoventilation[4]

The fight or flight response also causes the body to change its breathing pattern from a slow, deeper breath to either rapid, deeper breaths (hyperventilation) or rapid, shallow breaths (Tachypnea). When your breathing changes to either of these patterns, carbon dioxide (CO2) levels in the bloodstream decrease. A reduction in CO2 can cause many symptoms, including lightheadedness, feeling faint, and feeling like your muscles are weak, heavy, and tired.

Some people hold their breath or under breathe when they are stressed or anxious, causing Hypoventilation (not enough oxygen). Not enough oxygen increases CO2 in the blood, which can also cause the sensations of feeling lightheaded, faint, and having weak muscles.

3. Low blood sugar[5]

The stress response stresses the body because of the many physiological, psychological, and emotional changes it causes. Stress taxes the body’s energy resources. If you are experiencing an extended episode of anxiety, your body can deplete its energy resources quickly, causing a reduction in blood sugar. Low blood sugar, even if low within the normal range, can cause symptoms, including lightheadedness, fatigue, and weak, tired, and heavy feeling muscles.

4. Fatigue and Sleep deprivation[6][7]

Extended periods of stress or anxiety can cause fatigue. Fatigue can cause a number of symptoms, including lightheadedness, concentration problems, and muscle weakness.

Moreover, stress can cause problems with sleep. Sleep deprivation can also cause symptoms, including feeling dizzy and having weak and tired muscles.

5. Perception of muscle weakness and soreness

Many people with anxiety disorder become inward-focused on it and its symptoms. Sometimes this inward focus can create the “perception” of muscle weakness when there isn’t an actual physical cause.

We explain “Inward Focused Thinking” and how to stop it in chapter 6 in the Recovery Support area.

6. Hyperstimulation

When stress responses occur infrequently, the body can recover relatively quickly. When stress responses occur too frequently or dramatically, however, such as from overly apprehensive behavior, the body has a more difficult time recovering, which can cause it to remain in a state of semi stress response readiness. We call this state “stress-response hyperstimulation” since stress hormones are stimulants. Hyperstimulation can cause the changes of an active stress response even though a stress response hasn’t been activated. [8][9][10] "Weak muscles" is a common indication of hyperstimulation.

There are several ways hyperstimulation can cause muscle weakness anxiety symptoms, including muscle tension and muscle fatigue, sensory anomalies, and chronic fatigue, to name a few. We explain this in more detail in the “Muscle Weakness and Soreness” symptom in the symptoms section (chapter 9) in the Recovery Support area.

For more information about hyperstimulation and the many ways it can affect the body, visit our “Stress-response Hyperstimulation” article.

How to get rid of muscle weakness anxiety symptoms?

Stress Response

When this symptom is caused by apprehensive behavior and the accompanying stress response changes, calming yourself down will bring an end to the stress response and its changes. As your body recovers from the active stress response, this anxiety symptom should subside. Keep in mind it can take up to 20 minutes or more for the body to recover from a major stress response. This is normal and shouldn’t be a cause for concern.

Hyper- or Hypoventilation

When this symptom is caused by hyper- or hypoventilation, regulating your breathing will alleviate it as your blood CO2 levels return to normal values and stabilize. As they do, the muscle weakness feeling should subside.

Low blood sugar

When this symptom is caused by low blood sugar, eating a nutritious snack or meal can restore blood sugar to a normal level. As blood sugar returns to a healthy level, this muscle weakness feeling should let up.

Fatigue or sleep deprivation

When muscle weakness is caused by fatigue and sleep deprivation, increasing rest and getting regular good sleep can restore normal energy. As your body recovers from fatigue and sleep loss, weak feeling muscles should disappear.

Perception

When this symptom is caused by perception, changing the focus of your attention can eliminate the “perceived” notion of weakness. Distraction is an effective way of changing your focus.

Again, you can learn more about “Inward Focused Thinking” and how to stop it in chapter 6 in the Recovery Support area.

Hyperstimulation

When this anxiety symptom is caused by hyperstimulation, such as from overly apprehensive behavior, it can take much longer for the body to calm down and recover, and to the point where this anxiety symptom subsides.

Reducing your body's stress and giving it time to recover should eliminate weak feeling muscles. But you have to keep in mind that it can take a long time to recover from hyperstimulation. Reducing the body's stress overall generally doesn't happen quickly. You may need to reduce your body's stress for a few weeks or more before you see this symptom subside.

Nevertheless, when your body has completely recovered from hyperstimulation, it will stop producing symptoms of hyperstimulation, including the muscle weakness anxiety symptoms.

Regular exercise, light weight training, getting fresh air, relaxed breathing, and eating a healthy and balanced diet can also help alleviate this symptom in time. Worrying about the muscle weakness feeling is not helpful since worry stresses the body.

For a more detailed explanation about anxiety symptoms, including the muscle weakness anxiety symptom, why symptoms can persist long after the stress response has ended, common barriers to recovery from hyperstimulation 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.

Anxiety muscle weakness frequently asked questions

Can anxiety cause weakness in arms and legs?

Yes! Having weakness in the arms and legs is a common symptom of anxiety disorder. For more information, read why does anxiety cause a weak and heavy legs feeling. You can also read how to get rid of weak and heavy feeling legs.

There are many medical conditions and medications that can cause weakness in arms and legs. You should discuss this symptom with your doctor to rule out a medical cause.

What causes sudden weakness in legs?

Anxiety can cause sudden weakness in legs. Anxiety can cause a sudden weakness in many other parts of the body, as well. For more information, read why anxiety can cause sudden weakness in legs. You can also read how to get rid of sudden weakness in legs.

There are many medical conditions and medications that can cause sudden weakness in legs. You should discuss this symptom with your doctor to rule out a medical cause

Why do my legs feel weak and heavy?

Stress, including anxiety-caused stress, can make your legs feel weak and heavy. Weak and heavy legs is a common symptom of overly apprehensive behavior. For more information, read why anxiety can cause weak and heavy legs. You can also read how to get rid of weak and heavy legs.

There are many medical conditions and medications that can cause legs to feel weak and heavy. You should discuss this symptom with your doctor to rule out a medical cause.

Why do my legs feel weak and tired?

Stress, including anxiety-caused stress, can make your legs feel weak and tired. Many people experience legs that feel weak and tired when they are anxious, stressed, or afraid. For more information, read why anxiety can cause a weak and tired feeling in the legs. You can also read how to get rid of legs that feel weak and tired.

There are many medical conditions and medications that can cause legs to feel weak and tired. You should discuss this symptom with your doctor to rule out a medical cause.

Why do my muscles feel so weak?

There can be many reasons why muscles feel so weak. Stress, including anxiety-caused stress is one reason. For more information, read why anxiety can cause muscles to feel so weak. You can also read how to get rid of muscles that feel so weak.

Since some medical conditions and medications can cause muscles to feel weak, we recommend discussing this symptom with your doctor to rule out a medical cause.

What causes weakness in arms and legs?

Anxiety and chronic stress can cause weakness in the arms and legs. For more information, you can read why anxiety can cause weakness in the arms and legs. You can also read how to get rid of anxiety-caused weakness in the arms and legs.

Since some medical conditions and medications can cause weakness in the arms and legs, we recommend discussing this symptom with your doctor to rule out a medical cause.

Can anxiety cause long term muscle weakness?

Yes! Anxiety stresses the body, and a body that becomes chronically stressed can exhibit long-lasting symptoms, including long-term muscle weakness. For more information, you can read why anxiety can cause long term muscle weakness. You can also read how to get rid of long term muscle weakness.

There are also some medical conditions and medications that can cause long term muscle weakness. We recommend discussing this symptom with your doctor to rule out a medical cause.

Can anxiety cause muscle weakness and twitching?

Yes! Just as anxiety can cause weak feeling muscles, it can also cause muscle twitching. Consequently, anxiety can cause both muscle weakness and twitching at the same time. For more information, you can read more about the anxiety muscle twitching symptom.

There are also some medical conditions and medications that can cause muscle weakness and twitching. We recommend discussing this symptom with your doctor to rule out a medical cause.

Can anxiety cause muscle weakness on one side of body?

Yes! Anxiety-caused muscle weakness can affect any muscle or group of muscles. It can also cause muscle weakness on one side of the body. Anxiety-caused muscle weakness can also affect one side of the body, and then migrate to the other side, and involve both sides. All combinations and variations are common.

There are also some medical conditions and medications that can cause muscle weakness on one side of the body. We recommend discussing this symptom with your doctor to rule out a medical cause.

Can health anxiety cause muscle weakness?

Yes! Any type of anxiety, including health anxiety, can cause anxiety symptoms, including muscle weakness. Health anxiety is one of the more common causes of anxiety disorder. Working with an experienced anxiety disorder therapist is the most effective way to overcome health anxiety.

Can general anxiety disorder cause muscle weakness?

Yes! Any type of anxiety, including generalized anxiety disorder, can cause anxiety symptoms, including muscle weakness. Generalized anxiety is one of the more common causes of anxiety disorder. Working with an experienced anxiety disorder therapist is the most effective way to overcome anxiety disorder, including generalized anxiety disorder and its symptoms, including muscle weakness.

Can anxiety cause a feeling of muscle weakness?

Yes! Anxiety can cause both a feeling of muscle weakness and actual muscle weakness. For more information, you can read why anxiety can cause a feeling of muscle weakness. You can also read how to get rid of a feeling of muscle weakness.

Since there are many medical conditions and medications that can cause a feeling of muscle weakness, we recommend discussing this symptom with your doctor to rule out a medical cause.

Anxiety Therapy

If you are having difficulty with anxiety, its symptoms, and troublesome worry, you might 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.

All of our recommended therapists have experienced anxiety disorder, have successfully overcome it, and are medication-free. Their years of personal and professional experience make them an excellent choice to work with on your road to recovery.

Visit our "Why Therapy" and "What Makes Our Therapists Unique" articles for more information.


 



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.


Additional Resources:


Return to Anxiety Disorders Signs and Symptoms section.

anxietycentre.com: Information, support, and coaching/counseling/therapy for problematic anxiety and its sensations and symptoms, including muscle weakness anxiety symptoms.


REFERENCES:

1. Selye, Hans. "Results Of The Dissection." The Stress of Life. New York: McGraw-Hill Book, 1956. N. pag. Print

2. Folk, Jim and Folk, Marilyn. "Stress Response." anxietycentre.com, Nov. 2019.

3. "The Physiology of Stress: Cortisol and the Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal Axis." DUJS Online. N.p., 03 Feb. 2011. Web. 19 May 2016.

4. Meuret, Alicia E., and Thomas Ritz. “Hyperventilation in Panic Disorder and Asthma: Empirical Evidence and Clinical Strategies.” NCBI PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, Oct. 2010.

5. “Dizziness.” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 6 Sept. 2018.

6. ePainAssist, Team. “Sleep Deprivation Dizziness|Causes|Symptoms|Treatment|Prevention|Risks.” EPainAssist, Painassist Inc, 21 Apr. 2018.

7. Kim, Sung Kyun, et al. “Relationship between Sleep Quality and Dizziness.” PLOS ONE, Public Library of Science, 2018.

8. 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.

9. 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.

10. Bear,Connors, Paradiso (2016). Neuroscience: Exploring the brain - Fourth Edition. In Neurons And Glia (pp. 29-53). New York, NY: Wolters Kluwer