Left Arm Pain Anxiety: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

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Experiencing left arm pain can be unsettling, especially when you’re not sure if it’s from a physical issue or anxiety.

This guide will help you understand why anxiety might make your left arm hurt, what the symptoms look like, and how to treat it. Knowing whether your pain is from anxiety or something more serious like a heart attack is important for taking the right steps to feel better.

Can anxiety cause arm pain?

Yes, anxiety can indeed cause arm pain, among other physical symptoms. While it might seem surprising that a psychological condition could manifest so physically. Anxiety triggers a sequence of physiological responses as part of the body’s natural “fight or flight” response. This response prepares the body to flee or fight in threatening situations, even if the threat is not physically present. This response connects to arm pain in different ways.

The link between anxiety and physical symptoms

Muscle tension

  • One of the most direct effects of anxiety is increased muscle tension throughout the body. When anxious, your body tenses up in preparation for a perceived threat. 1
  • This tension commonly affects the shoulders and arms, leading to soreness, stiffness, or pain in these areas.

Nervous system response

  • Anxiety can hyper-stimulate the nervous system, leading to various nerve-related sensations such as tingling, numbness, or dull pain in the left arm.
  • These symptoms are often due to the body’s heightened state of alertness, where nerves can “misfire” or become overly reactive. 2

Circulatory system changes

  • Anxiety can also cause changes in blood flow, which may affect the arms.
  • During anxiety attacks, blood is redirected to vital organs like the heart and lungs, potentially leading to a decrease in blood flow to the limbs and resulting in pain or discomfort. 3

Hyperventilation

  • Many people with anxiety may experience hyperventilation, which can lead to a reduction in carbon dioxide levels in the blood.
  • This imbalance can cause cramping, tingling, or arm pain.

Psychological factors

  • Pain involves both your body and your mind. When you’re anxious, you might become more sensitive to pain, making it feel more intense than usual.
  • This heightened awareness can make even minor discomforts feel worse.

Stress-related chronic pain

  • If you often feel very anxious, constant stress can cause long-term health problems, including ongoing pain. 
  • Stress keeps your muscles tight and can cause left arm pain, affecting your everyday life and well-being. 4

How do I know if anxiety is causing the pain in my left arm?

Determining whether the pain in your left arm is caused by anxiety or a medical condition like a heart attack involves examining your symptoms. Here’s how to assess if anxiety could be behind your left arm pain:

Examine the characteristics of the pain

Understanding the nature of the pain can help identify its source:

  • Type of pain: Pain from anxiety might feel like tingling, a dull ache, or a quick, sharp pain, which differs from the intense, crushing pain often associated with heart issues.
  • Location and spread: If the pain in the left arm isn’t concentrated in one area and shifts around, it could be linked to anxiety. Heart-related pain usually stays in a specific area and is very consistent.
  • Triggered by stress: Notice if the pain appears during stressful times or anxious moments and if it lessens when you relax. This pattern suggests it could be related to anxiety.

Look for additional symptoms

Additional signs can confirm if your arm pain is related to anxiety:

  • Common anxiety signs: Symptoms like a racing heart, sweating, or shortness of breath are often linked with anxiety. If these accompany your left arm pain, anxiety could be the cause.
  • Duration and timing: Anxiety-related pain often happens with moments of stress and disappears as you calm down, unlike pain from a physical condition that persists regardless of stress levels.
  • Relief with anxiety techniques: Does the pain reduce when you use techniques to lower your anxiety, such as deep breathing or gentle exercise? If so, anxiety might be the cause. 

Reflect on your anxiety history

Understanding your past experiences with anxiety can offer clues:

  • Previous anxiety episodes: If you’ve had anxiety before and experienced similar symptoms, your current arm pain may be another manifestation of anxiety.
  • Effectiveness of anxiety management: Note whether managing your anxiety through established techniques consistently relieves the pain.

Other causes of left arm pain

While anxiety and related disorders, such as panic attacks, can contribute to sensations of discomfort in the left arm, it’s crucial to recognize that other medical conditions might also be responsible. Understanding these potential causes can help diagnose and treat the issue. 

Heart-related issues

Heart problems are a serious and common cause of left arm pain and chest pain, requiring immediate attention:

  • Heart attack: This occurs when the blood flow to the heart is severely reduced or blocked, leading to severe pain that might radiate to the left arm, often described as pressure or squeezing.
  • Angina: Often triggered by physical exertion or stress, angina is due to decreased blood flow to the heart and can manifest as discomfort or heaviness in the left arm.
  • Other heart conditions: Other cardiac issues like pericarditis or myocarditis can also cause pain in the left arm alongside other symptoms, and these pains may come and go.

Musculoskeletal problems

Issues with the muscles and bones can also lead to pain in the left arm, especially in individuals who experience left arm pain as part of an anxiety disorder:

  • Muscle strain: Excessive use or injury can strain muscles, leading to pain that intensifies with movement and may come and go.
  • Tendonitis: Inflammation in the tendons, such as in the shoulder or elbow, can cause pain that may extend to the left arm.
  • Arthritis: Joint inflammation in the shoulder or elbow can cause pain, swelling, and decreased mobility, affecting the left arm.

Nerve compression or damage

Nerve issues can cause pain that spreads to the arm, a common complaint among those who frequently experience left arm pain due to anxiety:

  • Cervical radiculopathy: Nerve compression in the neck, often from herniated discs or bone spurs, can result in pain that radiates down the arm, accompanied by numbness or tingling.
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome: While primarily affecting the hands and wrists, it can also cause pain that extends up the arm.
  • Peripheral neuropathy: This condition involves damage to the peripheral nerves and can lead to pain, tingling, and numbness in the arm.

Nerve compression or damage

Nerve issues can cause pain that spreads to the arm, a common complaint among those who frequently experience left arm pain due to anxiety:

  • Cervical radiculopathy: Nerve compression in the neck, often from herniated discs or bone spurs, can result in pain that radiates down the arm, accompanied by numbness or tingling.
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome: While primarily affecting the hands and wrists, it can also cause pain that extends up the arm.
  • Peripheral neuropathy: This condition involves damage to the peripheral nerves and can lead to pain, tingling, and numbness in the arm.

Other conditions

Several other conditions can lead to pain in the left arm:

  • Thoracic outlet syndrome: Compression of nerves or blood vessels between the neck and shoulder can lead to pain, numbness, and tingling in the arm.
  • Fibromyalgia: This condition, characterized by widespread pain and fatigue, can include left arm pain among its symptoms and is often associated with those suffering from an anxiety disorder.

Treatment for anxiety left arm pain

When left arm pain is primarily driven by anxiety, it’s essential to tackle both the psychological and physical aspects of the condition. 

Psychological treatments

Psychological interventions can reduce anxiety and its physical manifestations:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): CBT helps identify and modify negative thoughts that contribute to anxiety, reducing physical symptoms like arm pain.
  • Counseling and psychotherapy: These sessions explore the roots of your anxiety and develop coping strategies, helping to alleviate related arm pain.
  • Medication: For severe anxiety, doctors may prescribe antidepressants to help stabilize mood and decrease physical symptoms.

Physical treatments

Directly addressing the physical symptoms can also provide relief:

  • Physical therapy: Exercising regularly can reduce muscle tension and improve circulation, easing arm pain.
  • Massage therapy: Massage relaxes tight muscles and enhances blood flow, which can lessen pain.
  • Acupuncture: This traditional technique relieves pain and stress by targeting specific points on the body.

Lifestyle changes and home remedies

Small adjustments in daily life can have a big impact on anxiety-related symptoms:

  • Regular exercise: Walking or swimming promotes relaxation and reduces stress, improving physical health.
  • Mindfulness and relaxation techniques: Meditation and deep breathing can calm the mind and reduce symptoms.
  • Healthy sleep habits: Adequate sleep helps manage anxiety, impacting physical health positively.
  • Nutrition: Making lifestyle changes to include a balanced diet supports overall well-being and helps regulate mood.

Self-management techniques

Simple self-care actions can be very effective:

  • Over-the-counter pain relief: Non-prescription pain relievers can be used cautiously to manage immediate arm pain, though they should not replace anxiety treatment.
  • Heat therapy: Applying warmth to the affected area can relax muscles and reduce pain.
  • Stress management techniques: Effective stress management, like journaling or engaging in hobbies, helps reduce the physical symptoms of anxiety.
  • Educational workshops: Learning more about anxiety and how to manage it can empower you to handle symptoms better. 

Professional help

Consult healthcare professionals for a comprehensive treatment plan. Always check with a doctor to ensure no other underlying causes of arm pain. 

Arm pain could be a symptom of a heart attack. If this is the case, call 911 immediately to get support. Discuss the best treatment approach, including the possibility of antidepressants and relaxation techniques, with your healthcare provider.

Final thoughts

Dealing with left arm pain caused by anxiety involves both treating your mind and your body. However, it’s crucial to make sure this pain isn’t a sign of something more serious, like a heart attack.

If you experience pain in your left arm that comes and goes, or if it’s a new concern, consult a professional to rule out any serious causes.

Our anxiety treatment program in Arizona provides personalized support to help you manage anxiety and its effects on your body, especially if you’re dealing with pain in your left arm that comes and goes.

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Sources

  1. 1. Pluess, M., Conrad, A., & Wilhelm, F. H. (2008). Muscle tension in generalized anxiety disorder: A critical review of the literature. Journal of Anxiety Disorders, 23(1), 1-11. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.janxdis.2008.03.016

2. Won, E., & Kim, Y. K. (2020). Neuroinflammation-associated alterations of the brain as potential neural biomarkers in anxiety disorders. International Journal of Molecular Sciences, 21(18), 6546. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijms21186546

3. Pan, Y., Cai, W., Cheng, Q., Dong, W., An, T., & Yan, J. (2015). Association between anxiety and hypertension: A systematic review and meta-analysis of epidemiological studies. Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment, 11, 1121-1130. https://doi.org/10.2147/NDT.S77710

4. American Psychological Association. (2023, March 8). Stress effects on the body. https://www.apa.org/topics/stress/body