Can Anxiety Cause Acute Pain?

While we all feel anxious from time to time, for some, anxiety is a chronic problem that can result in additional problems such as acute and chronic pain. If this is left untreated, the problem (both pain and anxiety) can get worse. Here, we’ll dive into why anxiety can cause pain, what this might look like, and what you can do to help ease it.

When Does Feeling Anxious Become Anxiety?

Let’s say you’ve got a test coming up, you’re going for a job interview, or you’ve set your sights on that big promotion – you’ll almost certainly be feeling anxious, right? Absolutely! Anxiety as a result of life events is usually nothing to worry about and is pretty normal. However, if you’re experiencing high levels of anxiety daily or seemingly no reason, you may be experiencing a condition called Generalised Anxiety Disorder, or another mental health condition.

You may also experience frequent panic attacks which could induce both mental and physical distress including:

  • Feeling out of control/trapped/claustrophobic
  • Breathing quickly/heavily/panting
  • Heart racing/pounding
  • Sweating
  • Stomach ache
  • Shaking
  • Crying
  • Burning up

These are several symptoms that you may experience during a period of extremely high anxiety or a panic attack, however, this list is not exhaustive, and it’s important to seek the help of a trained counsellor or therapist if you’re struggling with your mental health.

Why Can Anxiety Cause Acute Pain?

Anxiety can cause acute pain for a variety of reasons; not only can it cause extreme fatigue, but it can also disrupt hormone balance, cause muscle stiffness and/or weakness, as well as a whole host of other problems! When these problems are continuous and painful, they can become acute and chronic.

In fact, some studies suggest that anxiety disorders may be present in up to 60% of patients with chronic pain. When this is compared with the fact that up to 5% of people in the UK are said to be living with Generalised Anxiety Disorder, it’s easy to see how this is a huge problem.

Can anxiety cause upper back pain?

In a word – yes. The most direct way in which this can be the case is through the muscle tension commonly caused by anxiety. However, many of the behavioural changes that anxiety can cause may also contribute to upper back pain. For instance, people suffering from anxiety might begin to slouch or reduce their levels of physical activity, both of which are known causes of back pain.

It’s worth noting that anxiety is not thought to be able to directly cause severe back pain, but that doesn’t mean that the pain caused by your anxiety will not worsen over time. This is because many people over-adjust their posture in response, changing the way they sit, stand and walk in an attempt to lessen the pain that is ultimately more likely to worsen it.

What Acute Pain Caused By Anxiety Can Look Like

Pain as a result of anxiety can manifest itself in a number of ways, and it’s not always obvious that anxiety is the cause. However, if you’re experiencing acute pain including any of the below symptoms combined with chronic high levels of anxiety, then the two very well could be linked:

  • Painful muscle tension: while we’ve all probably experienced some annoying tension in our shoulders, back, or even jaw – if you’re constantly finding your muscles painful and tense, then anxiety could be the cause.
  • Persistent headaches: linking to our previous point, anxiety-related muscle tension, such as teeth grinding and jaw clenching, can also cause persistent acute headaches.
  • Stomach pain: according to CalmClinic, anxiety releases a stress hormone (cortisol), which causes the body to produce extra levels of stomach acid. That acidity causes the lining of the oesophagus to become irritated, and this can lead to stomach pain.
  • Chest pain: although any chest pain should certainly not be taken lightly, anxiety contributes to the chest pain symptom complex in 30% to 40% of patients with low-risk chest pain seen in the emergency department.

Easing Acute Pain Caused By Anxiety

If you’re experiencing acute pain caused by anxiety, then there are certain ways to help ease this, however, it’s important to treat the actual anxiety disorder in order to help stop the pain from returning. 

  • Counselling or therapy: counselling or therapy such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) are seen by many as the gold standard of anxiety treatment. You’ll be taught to recognise negative thoughts, feelings, and behavioural patterns to ultimately ease your anxiety symptoms.
  • Medication: for some people, a combination of both counselling/therapy and medication is needed in order to tackle their anxiety disorder. Medication can help make things easier to manage and can give you the support needed to get better.
  • Relaxation Exercises: relaxation exercises such as deep breathing, visualisation, and progressive muscle relaxation are particularly effective for intense anxiety in the moment such as panic attacks. However, it’s important to practice these outside of these intense feelings to ensure you’re well equipped for if and when they return.

The Conclusion

While there are many factors that can be the cause of acute or chronic pain, including anxiety, if your pain still isn’t going away even after treating or managing your anxiety, then it could be that another factor is at play. It’s therefore important to seek the advice of a professional for both anxiety and acute pain.

If you’d like to find out how we can help with both anxiety and chronic pain, contact us today.

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