Many people get pain or tension in their shoulders, neck or back occasionally, and a decent massage or chiropractic adjustment tends to fix basic aches and pains caused by everyday living.
But what about when you start getting neck, shoulder, back or (insert other body part) pain every day? That’s when you generally go to a doctor to find out what’s going on.
If you don’t know the cause of pain or tension, a doctor can help you narrow down whether the pain and tension is an issue related to a muscle, bone or nerve. A doctor can even help you figure out if maybe you sustained an injury related to personal training or work.
However, your doctor might not think to ask about the state of your mental health, and that could actually play a major role in some people’s muscle tension problems.
In fact, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) lists muscle tension as a symptom of generalized anxiety disorder, which most people commonly refer to as “anxiety.”
Dr. Selene Parekh, an orthopedic surgeon and associate professor at Duke University, said in an email that although muscle tension is not one of the most common symptoms of anxiety, it can be present.
“With extreme anxiety, the body can release epinephrine which can lead to rapid breathing, elevated heart rates, and increased muscle tension,” he said.
He said the severity of muscle tension will depend on the individual. For some people it is barely noticeable, but for others it can affect quality of life.
“In others it can be intense enough to cause neck or back pain, tension headaches, and referred pain,” Parekh said. “The threshold for muscle tension varies from person to person.”
He said that the best way to determine the cause of muscle tension and pain is through a physical exam, X-rays potentially, a CT scan and MRI.
“The best thing to do is find ways to manage the anxiety and stress,” Parekh said. “This can be done with biofeedback, yoga, meditation, psychotherapy, and sometimes medications.”
Dr. Murray Grossan, author of “Stressed? Anxiety?