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What is Stress Induced Joint Pain & What Are The Different Ways In Which Emotional Stress Can Cause Joint Pain?

Emotional stress can cause joint pain in a myriad of ways, which we will be discussing in this article. Recurring joint pain can keep a person away from activities, which they once enjoyed a lot. Severe joint pain can also be a sign of a serious underlying issue. There are dozens of reasons, like injury and arthritis, which can lead to pain in the joint.

What is Stress Induced Joint Pain?

What is Stress Induced Joint Pain?

However, one of the lesser known causes of joint pain can be emotional stress. So can emotional stress cause joint pain too? Stress and anxiety can negatively affect the body and persistent stress in everyday life can even lead to joint pain. Anxiety can be held responsible for worsening of joint pain, and the existence of joint pain in general can be a source of anxiety. But stressful situations can both directly and indirectly be related to the discomfort.

The pain felt with a broken bone or a torn ligament can be easily linked to a specific injury. But anxiety-related joint pain can be a little more abstract in how it affects the sufferer. While a strengthening routine and intake of certain medications can help to alleviate joint pain, there are some other things which a person suffering from anxiety can do to return to a pain-free life.

What Are The Different Ways In Which Emotional Stress Can Cause Joint Pain?

There are 5 different ways in which stress and anxiety can trigger joint pain by:

Triggering Inflammation

Emotional stress increases inflammation in the body and in this way also causes joint pain. The body has physical reactions during stressful situations. For instance, when suddenly slamming the brakes while driving, a pit in the stomach or a rush of adrenaline is felt. These sensations are part of the body’s “fight or flight” response. Basically, the fight or flight response is a physiological reaction which occurs during a stress-causing event, and the body gets back to its normal state once the stressful time passes.

There is another type of low-grade, chronic stress which triggers such a subtle reaction that may not even get noticed. And while the stress sufferer may not be consciously aware that is happening, if their body is in a continuous state of responding to anxiety, the “stress hormones” released in response to that stress will increase and disturb the balance in the system. If these increased levels have no way of dispersing, either through activity or eventual dissipation of the stressful environment, the hormones can linger in the body and create many kinds of issues, like increased inflammation in the joints and causing stress induced joint pain.

Hindering Normal Movement

Certain kinds of movements, like foot tapping and leg bouncing, are common releases for getting through anxious moments. But when experiencing chronic anxiety, the frequency of these repetitive motions could exert additional strain on the joints. Contrary to this, constant stress can lead to a decrease in the normal movement, which can also have a negative impact. People who face extreme stress can be less active or choose to spend more time in bed. The less the joints are moved, the more susceptible they become to inflexibility and tightness. So by excessive movement or decreased movements, this is how emotional stress causes joint pain.

Imagining Pain

A person with the same knee pain can have two completely different experiences. In the first situation, when they have to stand in the bus on their way to work, they immediately become aware of the discomfort in the joints and have an unpleasant commute. In the second situation, when the same individual is on vacation and has to stand for the same length of time, they do not seem to notice the pain. This is because they are now at a beach rather than being in the city bus. In this hypothetical scenario, the person is suffering from the same knee problem, but they just become less aware of the joint pain when focusing on something, which is fun and enjoyable.

The same is true for people suffering from chronic anxiety. Stress can change a person’s perception of everything in their surroundings. Joint pain which is otherwise manageable on a stress-free day can become a lot more unbearable when there is a lot to worry about resulting in emotional stress induced joint pain.

Stiffening of Muscles

An anxious person tends to subconsciously tighten up. A clenched jaw or hunched shoulders are some of the ways through which the body tries to compensate for nervous energy. When the muscles become tensed or stiff, they make the joints work harder, which in turn leads to increased discomfort, inflammation and joint pain. One should always be mindful of the peculiar ways in which their body reacts to anxiety, and should try and correct these movements or behaviours before they become problematic such as causing joint pain. Stiffening of the muscles is a common way in which emotional stress can cause joint pain.

Weakening of Immunity

Emotional stress can harm the body, especially the immune system. Anxiety and stress can lead to high blood pressure and many other issues which can weaken the body’s ability to stay healthy. Also, methods of coping with stress like drinking alcohol or smoking can further push the body into compromised health. When the body tries to fight off illness, the pain caused by inflammation can feel worse. Although, it can be tough for a person to take care of them self when dealing with anxiety, but it is still a very important thing to do. The healthier the overall body is, the less likely it is to experience stress and joint pain, and the better equipped it is to deal with these issues if they still occur. Emotional stress weakens the immunity and leads to joint pain.

How to Reduce Stress-Induced Joint Pain?

When suffering from anxiety and emotional stress that is aggravating joint pain, the sufferer can do a few things to manage their condition. To combat stress induced joint pain, the patient should focus on diet and consume the right foods which can reduce joint inflammation and improve the overall health. Eating a balanced, healthy diet is of utmost importance for both physical and mental health. To decrease stress and anxiety levels, patient should also engage in deep breathing exercises which help them to decompress from stressful situations. Listening to music can prove helpful in lowering anxiety, as it diverts the attention away from things which can be weighing the mind down and thus help in relieving joint pain caused by emotional stress. Even doing light exercise is a great way of releasing anxiety and reducing stress induced joint pain. Not only does exercise help to dissipate the hormones built up by anxiety, but it can also aid in building a better, fitter body.


  1. “Chronic Stress: How It Affects Your Health” – Mayo Clinic https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/stress/art-20046037

Also Read:

Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:September 1, 2023

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