Anxiety can cause a range of physical symptoms, including pain. Some people with anxiety may experience left arm pain. By treating the underlying mental health condition, a person may find that the pain improves.

Anxiety disorders are the most common form of mental illness. About 18.1% of the adult population in the United States experiences an anxiety disorder each year.

It can be difficult to determine whether someone is having a heart attack or a panic attack. If a person’s symptoms include arm or chest pain, shortness of breath, nausea, dizziness, or sweating, they should dial 911.

A woman works at her computer late a night while massaging her left arm, which is in pain from anxiety.Share on Pinterest
Pain in the left arm may be a physical symptom of anxiety, but it could also be the result of other causes, such as an injury.

Anxiety can cause pain in several ways. For some people, this pain might appear in the left arm.

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, people with anxiety often experience chronic pain from muscle tension, soreness, or headaches. Tension or pain might occur in the arms as a result.

People who experience anxiety may also have panic attacks. Panic attacks, or anxiety attacks, are periods of intense anxiety. They can cause symptoms that are similar to those of a heart attack, such as chest pain, arm pain, a rapid heartbeat, and shortness of breath.

Additionally, anxiety and stress may make it more difficult for people with preexisting conditions, such as arthritis or fibromyalgia, to cope with the pain that they cause.

How a person treats this symptom will depend on the factors causing it. If the arm pain is due to anxiety or another mental health condition, treating this condition will improve the pain. If there is an underlying physical health condition, a person will need to see a doctor for diagnosis and treatment.

Treating anxiety

Treatments for anxiety disorders include psychotherapy. Psychotherapy helps a person understand what is making them anxious and how they can deal with these triggers.

There are several types of psychotherapy that a person can try, and many therapists use a mixture of approaches. These approaches include:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): CBT works by identifying the thoughts and beliefs that make a person anxious. Then, a therapist teaches the person exercises and techniques to help them change these thought patterns.
  • Psychoanalysis: This type of therapy focuses on uncovering the unconscious motivations behind a person’s thoughts and behaviors.
  • Humanistic: Person- or client-centered therapy focuses on helping the person make decisions for themselves so that they can reach their full potential.

Stress management techniques may also help reduce anxiety in a person’s daily life. The American Psychological Association (APA) suggest the following:

  • Meditation: Many studies show that meditation and mindfulness can help ease stress and improve anxiety, even in short sessions.
  • Exercise: A 2018 review found that physical activity had a positive effect on anxiety overall and may be a helpful addition to standard treatments.
  • Nature: Spending time outside and in natural landscapes may relieve anxiety. Looking at images and videos of nature may also help people recover from stress.
  • Social support: Talking to empathetic friends or family members may help people with stress or anxiety to cope.
  • Enjoyable activities: Hobbies and leisure can help relieve stress.

Some people may find it helpful to take medications for anxiety, such as beta-blockers or antidepressants. According to the APA, research generally shows that psychotherapy is more effective than medication as a treatment for anxiety. It may take some trial and error for a person to find what works for them.

Treating muscle tension

If a person’s anxiety causes muscle tension in their left arm, they may benefit from short-term treatments that relax the muscles, such as:

  • stretches
  • massage
  • warm baths
  • progressive muscle relaxation

A person can also take over-the-counter pain relievers, such as ibuprofen, when pain arises. However, these treatments will not address the underlying anxiety that causes the pain.

If therapy, medications, or relaxation techniques do not help treat arm pain, another health condition may be responsible for this symptom. According to the United Kingdom’s National Health Service (NHS), other causes of arm pain include:

Nerve pain or damage to the back or shoulder may also cause pain in the left arm.

In some cases, left arm pain is a symptom of a heart attack. Heart attacks occur when a blockage prevents blood flow around the heart. It is a medical emergency that requires immediate treatment.

The symptoms of a heart attack can include:

  • pain and discomfort in the left arm, chest, neck, or back
  • shortness of breath
  • lightheadedness
  • sweating
  • nausea or vomiting

With a heart attack, the arm pain may set in gradually or begin suddenly. Usually, it will last a few minutes or come and go repeatedly.

Learn about other causes and treatments of left arm pain.

It can be difficult to distinguish between a panic attack and a heart attack. If a person has the symptoms of a heart attack, the safest option is to call 911 right away.

If someone has left arm pain due to anxiety or panic attacks, they may wish to speak to a doctor or therapist. These professionals will be able to talk through the treatment options and help the person begin to manage their anxiety.

Anxiety can cause pain in the left arm. If it is due to a panic attack or muscle tension, it is likely to be temporary, but people with anxiety disorders may also experience chronic pain.

Anxiety is a treatable condition. A doctor might suggest therapy, medications, or stress management techniques to help. Using massage or heat to relax the muscles may also relieve pain in the short term.

There are other causes of arm pain, so it is important to speak to a doctor. If someone has persistent pain, it could be a sign of another medical condition.