Persistent Pain and Anxiety

Does anxiety cause pain, or is the pain causing anxiety? (It’s actually both.) Pain can be a common symptom and sometimes a good indicator of an anxiety disorder, particularly generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). Anxiety is a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease. GAD occurs when that feeling gets chronic, excessive, uncontrollable, irrational, and associated with surprisingly diverse symptoms. GAD is diagnosed when a person finds it difficult to control worry on more days than not for at least six months and has three or more symptoms.

Excessive and persistent anxiety is a strong root cause for back pain, possibly neck pain, as well as virtually any other kid of persistent pain, and even an array of other physical symptoms. Anxiety almost certainly amplifies pain perception and suffering across the board, but it gets worse: it may actually cause pain we wouldn’t otherwise have, by actually making us more prone to inflammation.

Persistent pain is very common, and, can be a cause and a consequence of anxiety, sometimes equally, sometimes leaning more one way than the other, but to some degree each always influencing the other. For many people with anxiety and persistent pain, solving the pain is the best possible treatment for the anxiety. Other people may have to solve both at once. And a few will find that pain is just one symptom that they are experiencing from their anxiety.

Anxiety from persistent pain

People with persistent pain are three times more likely to develop symptoms of anxiety. Researchers have found that experiencing a chronic illness puts a person at increased risk for developing anxiety or an anxiety disorder. Roughly 40% of people with cancer report experiencing psychological distress that often takes the shape of excessive worry or panic attacks.


Even long after a diagnosis, the daily demands of living with a chronic illness can continue to present challenges and generate anxiety. Loss of mobility or other abilities can lead to worry about safety, employment, or financial stability. Others may feel overwhelmed with anxiety and struggle to cope.

Persistent pain from anxiety

Anxiety and the stress it causes is a common source of persistent pain. There are several reasons why anxiety can cause persistent pain. Here are some of the most common reasons.

  • 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. Acute stress can have a reduction in pain sensitivity effect on the body, where persistent stress can heighten sensitivity to pain.
  • Pain stresses the body. Pain is stressful. As the degree of pain increases, the level of stress also increases.
  • Stress causes muscles to tighten. Overly taught muscles can cause pain and tenderness. Persistently tight muscles can become very painful and sore. Muscle tension problems can also affect the body’s joints, which can cause joint problems and pain, tenderness, soreness, and achiness.
  • 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. 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 hyper-stimulated.

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.

Persistent pain and anxiety have a strong tie to each other. Persistent anxiety can eventually cause persistent pain for some people. For others, pain can be a common symptom or indicator of an anxiety disorder. Working to overcome persistent pain may sometimes need a variety of approaches.

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