can joint pain be caused by stress

Are you experiencing aches and pain in joints from time to time? Do you think your daily life stresses are aggravating joint pain and soreness? Do you suspect stress can be behind your joint pain? If yes, you are in the right place. Read on to know more.

Stress has a constant presence in our lives. But, piling-up stress is what initiates many problems. Although stress is a psychological condition, it has a physical effect on our bodies. This includes reduced energy levels, colds, infections as well as aches in the head and back. The excessive workload at office, difficulty finding a job, family life, etc. are some common stress predictors. Stress is an inevitable and natural phenomenon. Yet, accumulating stress will give rise to a hoard of other physical implications that affect your daily life and performance.

Here, we will talk about what causes joint pain, its relationship with stress and measures to reduce joint pain caused by stress. But first, let’s understand what stress is and how it affects our bodies.

What is Stress?

Stress is the body’s natural response to various internal or external stimuli. Your body responds to such alterations by emotional, physical, and psychological changes. For instance, an argument with the boss may lead to reactionary changes in the body’s chemicals leading to stress. It is, however, relative and you can control it to some extent, by controlling your thoughts.

Although it is widely believed that stress has a psychological implication, scientific research shows that it also has a physical effect on our bodies. The hypothalamus in our brain sets the stress response and triggers the pituitary and the adrenal glands.

The ‘stress hormones’ response is also like the fight or flight response. It causes increased heart rate, rapid breathing, and elevated muscle tension. For a short time, stress would not be harmful. Rather it would be behooving for you, enabling you to deal with the situation promptly.

But, if the stress response keeps on firing for longer, it would be detrimental for your health. This can occur with the continuous presence of the stressor. The slew of persistent thoughts causes stress, which leads to various physical implications.

pain stress anxiety

Your body is capable of producing chemicals leading to stress.

Effects of Stress on the Body

The effects of stress have an impact on almost all your body systems. This includes respiratory, cardiovascular, digestive, reproductive, immune as well as the musculoskeletal system. Stress can trigger headache, causes depression, upsets the stomach as well as tense muscles. Additionally, stress can lead to insomnia, heartburn, reduced sex drive as well as irregular periods. It also weakens the immune system.

Symptoms include elevated risk of heart attack, hypertension, diabetes, and causes fertility problems besides tension-related backaches. During the stress response, your muscles get tensed for protection from injury. When the stress response goes away, muscle tension reduces, and muscles relax again.

However, under constant stress, your muscles would not get enough time to relax. The answer to “can joint pain be caused by stress?” is primarily a yes. The constant muscle tension caused by stress leads to backache, headaches, pain in the shoulder, and joints. Ultimately, leading a harmful cycle of chronic pain termed as persistent joint pain.

Knee pain

When under constant stress, your muscles would not get enough time to relax.

What Causes Joint Pain?

Although joint pain occurs in several diseases like arthritis, gout, tendinitis, osteoporosis, etc., inflammation is also a major cause of joint pain. Inflammation can occur within the joint or in the surrounding structures such as the tendons and muscles.

How Does Stress Cause Joint Pain?

As mentioned above, the stress response triggered by the hypothalamus causes the production of certain chemicals from the pituitary and adrenal glands. Some of the following released chemicals are associated with joint pain.

  • Pro-inflammatory cytokines
  • Cortisol
  • Prolactin
  • Adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH)

Pro-inflammatory Cytokines

Research shows that certain cytokines are involved in both the onset and aggravation of pathologic pain by direct activation of nociceptive sensory neurons. Pro-inflammatory cytokines are chemicals produced due to several reasons, one being stress.

When long-term stress occurs, your body undergoes chronic stress which results in continuous cytokine release that in turn triggers inflammation. Consequently, stress inflammation occurs.


Cortisol production in your body may result in heart disease, obesity or osteoporosis. Normally, some amount of cortisol is needed for bone development. However, its production in large quantities blocks bone growth. According to research, persistent stress response may result in cortisol dysfunction and widespread inflammation that can lead to joint pain.

Cortisol indirectly obstructs calcium absorption in the bone, inhibiting bone cell growth.


Studies show that stress hormones in the body cause as well as aggravate one common condition involving joints called rheumatoid arthritis. Prolactin is one of the hormones released by the pituitary gland during stress response. It triggers the cells to initiate the process of swelling in the joints. Research has shown that prolactin travels to joints, where it sets off inflammation, pain and tenderness. It has been found that in patients with rheumatoid arthritis, prolactin levels are twice as high compared to patients not undergoing long-term stress.

Adrenocorticotropic Hormone (ACTH)

The pituitary gland releases ACTH that migrates to the adrenal glands, where it initiates the release of epinephrine and cortisol. ACTH is the stress hormone that can hinder the release of natural pain relievers of the body: the endorphins. This leads to generalized anxiety and augmented pain post-injury.

Mineral Depletion

Mineral depletion is also one thing among others that answers the question, ‘can joint pain be caused by stress?’

Long-term stress leads to constant elevated levels of cortisol, giving rise to a state of inflammation in which the body’s ability to absorb calcium goes down. So, there is a significant rise in calcium excretion. This loss of calcium is rapid, so much so that it cannot be replenished by diet alone. With calcium depletion from the body, bones become extremely deprived of calcium.

As a result, bones become porous due to bone loss and brittle, leading to conditions called osteoporosis and its sequels. Thus, bone resorption follows, causing reduced bone mineral density. If the stress response continues to fire, there occurs a continuous depletion of minerals from the bones, which risks bone fracture and pain.

Magnesium is another mineral affected by stress. Similar to calcium, greater stress results in more magnesium depletion from the cells. Low magnesium levels give rise to symptoms like muscle cramps, mood swings as well as fatigue. Reduced magnesium also elevates receptivity to pain, meaning that it will aggravate the pain in the joints.

Depleting magnesium levels lowers your pain tolerance and results to joint flares.

Relationship between Stress and Joint Pain

The stress response helps to improve body strength and energy during certain circumstances. It helps the body to deal with tense situations, for instance, during a fight or an accident. After a stressful event, the body reinstates and repairs itself from any harm caused. Conversely, often, individuals do not handle stress positively. This causes the buildup of stress response which subsequently takes its toll on the body.

So, can joint pain be caused by stress? Yes, and not only that, but stress also aggravates the joint pain. How? The tensed muscles, stress inflammation, and muscle depletion leads to joint pain. Continued muscle tension due to constant stress adds up to the whole process. A vicious cycle is thus created which causes aggravation of joint pain. So, learning to manage stress can enable you to break that cycle [link to the an article about benefits of yoga or benefits of meditation or mindfulness].

Signs that You Are Stressed Out

Knowing how to manage stress begins with knowing the signs and symptoms of stress. The following symptoms are warning signs that you are stressed:

  • Tiredness
  • Anxiety
  • Muscle tension
  • Trembling
  • Indigestion
  • Insomnia
  • Cold wet hands
  • altered appetite
  • Teeth grinding
  • Constant headache
  • Backache or muscle pain

Thus, you should consider taking steps to reduce it before it causes any lasting damage to your body. Though, a few of these symptoms may occur due to issues other than stress, for example being ill. Consult your doctor for symptoms lasting for more than 7 days. If your doctor decides your symptoms are due to stress, you can together work out measures to ease it away.

joint pain in arm

You can work together with your doctor to prevent you from having lasting damages to your body.

Reduce Stress to Manage Pain

Stress releases stress hormones and rapid depletion of minerals which intensifies joint pain. So, you should take measures to stop stress from infuriating your joint pain. A balanced diet rich in calcium, magnesium, and other minerals will help manage stress. Also finding easy ways to cope up with stress will enable you to prevent flared up joints. Research indicates that mindfulness can help reduce stress levels. Therefore, you should be heedful to practice mindfulness through its various forms (meditation, exercise, etc.) since it reduces anxiety and negative feelings that diminish stress and its sequelae.



Co-founder of MB Zen, digital nomad and freedom seeker. Loves developing projects that improve people’s lives. Functional training, yoga, and healthy eating define his lifestyle since he got his back injured. Fell in love with Yin yoga from the very first session though he won’t say no to any other kind of yoga.