Have you ever thought about the children who will be in history class 50 years from now learning about the year 2020? Pandemic, grief, loss, masks, division, social distancing, no toilet paper and one of the craziest elections to date. For many, 2020 has been one of the most challenging years of their lives. Even for the strong-minded, this year has produced anxiety and stress like no other. Many have developed physiological issues this year, seemingly out of nowhere, including foot and ankle problems. Stress and anxiety can be at the root of your physical pain and discomfort. The truth is, anxiety doesn’t just cause psychological symptoms. Stress and anxiety can lead to all kinds of uncomfortable symptoms, including foot pain. If you can’t identify obvious signs and symptoms for your foot pain, it may be time to explore how stress and anxiety can be attributing to them.
4 Symptoms That May be Due to Stress and Anxiety
Increased Pain and Sensitivity
Muscles in the body tense when you become anxious which is a normal response to stress. Over a prolonged period of time however, that rigidity can cause pretty severe muscle aches and pains. Although stress itself doesn’t cause pain, the way your body reacts to stress can be a problem.
When you are anxious, your body releases stress hormones that make your blood pump through your veins faster, your heart rate increases and your muscles tense. Over time, chronic stress and anxiety can also increase your sensitivity to pain. Consequently, when your feet hurt, anxiety may intensify the pain. From here it’s an ongoing cycle of pain and anxiety. As your pain worsens, you may become more anxious, which can make your feet hurt even more. Stress management is key here. If you need help with managing your stress, our Podiatrist can refer you to a PCP or mental health professional in our network.
Chronic Foot and Leg Pain
Many people who have endured a long period of stress or anxiety also suffer from chronic pain disorders such as arthritis, fibromyalgia and middle or lower back pain that radiates down the back of the leg into the foot.
Your Podiatrist may recommend exercise, progressive muscle relaxation, deep breathing, and changes in your diet to help alleviate anxiety and the chronic pain symptoms it can cause. Yoga and meditation are alternative treatment options you may wish to pursue to help manage your stress as well.
Have you heard of the term “fight or flight”? If you’ve ever experienced extreme fright in a situation such as a car accident or someone in distress, then you’ve experienced your body’s natural “fight” reaction. This is adrenaline. It is why someone could have broken an arm but not have felt it until hours later when reality kicked in and the “adrenaline” wore off. Your nervous system is triggered by stress and anxiety and it diverts critical resources (for example, blood) toward vital organs at the expense of circulating blood to the extremities when you are in ‘fight’ mode. Someone with clinical anxiety or high stress levels are constantly sending signals to their body to FIGHT and therefore experience cold feet all of the time. It is VITAL to reduce stress and anxiety every way that you can. This will aid in giving your entire body what it needs to survive and thrive.
Rapid Breathing and Foot Problems
Anxiety is one of the most common causes of rapid breathing a.k.a. hyperventilation. When you breathe faster than normal, you may experience numbness and tingling in your hands or feet.
Hyperventilation causes you to exhale more than you inhale, reducing the amount of carbon dioxide in your body. Low levels of carbon dioxide cause blood vessels to narrow and reduce blood supply to the brain.
Rapid breathing can also cause calcium levels in your blood to drop. This decrease in calcium can cause symptoms such as painful muscle spasms and cramps in the hands and feet or numbness and tingling in the arms.
Here is our Takeaway: if you’ve developed sudden pain in your feet and/or ankles this year that has never presented itself before, we suggest you to consider taking note of your stress and anxiety and speaking with our Podiatrist vulnerably about it so you can get the care that you need.