Anxiety and chronic pain

Hi everyone, I was wondering whether anyone has experience of anxiety and chronic pain. I have been 'injured' for over a year now, initially thinking it was PF and then tendinitis. After as much medial intervention and exploration as you can imagine, nothing has been found. The pain has now moved into my entire leg and lower back. I have done a little research and there seems to be quite a bit of research to say that there is a link between anxiety and chronic pain. I have suffered with anxiety on and off over the years, but have always thought I'd managed to contain it but now I'm beginning to wonder whether it is manifesting itself in a different way as I have chosen to ignore the other symptoms. Obviously, not being able to run and not knowing why is adding to this anxiety. I'm noticing that in times of stress, the pain is worse. In fact as I'm sitting here worrying about it, my legs are starting to hurt, even though I've not used them today. After a night's sleep or if I have had a a drink, the pain goes. I don't know if I'm clutching at straws but it is bizarre that there has been no injury detected but I am still in such pain. image Any thoughts on this would be really appreciated.


  • Hi Beth. Whilst it's not common there is a psychiatric condition called conversion disorder that works in the way that you've described - a physical manifestation of mental distress.

    If you think you can or you think you can't you're probably right.
  • I'm not sure about the anxiety part but I used to suffer with bad back pain for years which after an MRI scan showed it was caused by a bulging disk in the spine and this caused sciatica pain in my leg right down to my foot on some days.
  • Not sure about chronic pain, certainly not lasting for more than a year, but anxiety can certainly case "real" symptoms. 

    Maybe you need to explore things that can help you relax: yoga, massage, relaxation tapes etc.

    Stuart may well be on to something though, sciatica can be difficult to get diagnosed.

  • Some forms of depression and chronic pain frequently go hand in hand. It can be difficult to know which condition led to which.
    See your Gp about the anxiety and give up caffeine. Seriously.

  • Focusing on a pain, and worrying about it can certainly worsen it. Some people react differently to pain, and not using a painful limb can produce chronic skin colour changes- purplish. shiny/ puffy, and chronic pain. IF that sounds like you- ask to get sent to a pain clinic, psychological management of pain and the fear- avoidance behaviour that comes with it can help a greart deal. Obviously they will want to exlude "fixable" troubles like a disc prolapse first.

    Good luck

  • I would say definitely yes if it is starting to hurt just because you are "sitting there thinking about it".  I've had neck pain related to stress and anxiety, I think it is tense posture leading to a muscle spasm.  Why not lower down the spine too.  In my case it did seem to respond to slow release diclofenac though, it didn't become chronic.  Maybe there was a placebo effect there, didn't have to worry about the pain hitting any more so I relaxed.  But diazepam hadn't worked!

    I'm no expert, but it's worth exploring the anxiety route in any case, isn't it. 

  • Thanks for the comments everyone; they've been very useful.

    I think I might make an appointment with my GP this week and see what he says. I'm sure there was an an initial problem back in February last year when I first did this but it's as though its developed into something different but there is absolutely no evidence of injury in any of the tests I've had.

    It's very strange and extremely frustrating!

  • Limper makes a good point about caffeine, 

    I got more and more intolerant to the stuff until the point it started causing panic attacks. That was it, can't drink it now but I don't miss it.

  • Caffeine can also affect your pain. Combined with your history of anxiety, it's a double whammy.
    You'll probably tell us now that you never touch the stuff?!!

    Good luck with your GP appointment.

  • Ha I'm a teacher therefore I seem to spend half of my life drinking the stuff! It doesn't appear to effect me but who knows, it might be worth a go...
  • Just try going without to see how much it affects you!  I have seen this at first hand several times: one bloke had to go home from work because his wife had switched him to decaff without telling him and he couldn't lift his spade, another had a headache by lunchtime which lasted for three days when we decided that six cups of coffee by "break" was enough and he should give up!

    Switch to herbal tea or Barleycup.

  • Hi Beth, I've just come across your post , but wanted to reply as I've had experience with exactly what you describe. I've been kept from running for months at a time by 'injuries' that I now recognise as not genuine injuries at all, but the product of anxiety that, in my body, presents itself as physical pain.

    I got past the problem with the help of a sympathetic GP, the sort of awareness that you now seem to have about your own symptoms eg noticing that they can be made worse by focussing on them and also a determination to get back on my feet, whatever that took!

    Please feel free to PM me if you want to discuss further. It took me a long time to recover - and I'm still not rid of it entirely, butI would be very happy to pass on what I've learnt.


  • I had rib back and groin strain day different times due to anxiety!! I would get an injury and the anxiety would tighten the areas where I was injured and they would stay injured!!  Try relaxation and pilates!! 

  • pain / slow recovery from injuries can also be exacerbated by Vitamin D deficiency, which is acompanied by depression and loss of energy - might also be worth having this checked, it is often overlooked.  I still have arthritis but have been off pain meds for over a year since sorting the vit D levels out.

  • Just my 10 cents, but I can relate to this too - get really anxious about stuff, and it seems the pains which manifest themselves are internal.  I have had some pretty major panic attacks in the past which were scary.  Have learnt to control it, but still...

    Although I've now ended up with my first running injury after years of being injury-free which is probably an age thing.

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