Muscle tension in generalized anxiety disorder: a critical review of the literature

J Anxiety Disord. 2009 Jan;23(1):1-11. doi: 10.1016/j.janxdis.2008.03.016. Epub 2008 Apr 7.


Background: Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is a prevalent, disabling, and often chronic disorder. With a typical recovery rate of only about 40% with current psychological treatments a better understanding of potential psychophysiological mechanisms is vital.

Methods: Since the most discriminative somatic symptom of GAD compared to other anxiety disorders is muscle tension this review qualitatively examines the literature on muscle tension as it relates to GAD and muscle relaxation therapy for GAD patients.

Results: Muscle tension in GAD is poorly understood. Experimental studies refute the often-assumed direct relationship between anxiety and muscle tension. However, muscle relaxation therapies have been as effective as cognitive interventions directly addressing the defining symptom worry.

Conclusions: Muscle tension in its objective and subjective representations may play a role in GAD through various pathways that are testable. Future research needs to better examine the different aspects and functions of muscle tension in GAD.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anxiety Disorders / physiopathology*
  • Anxiety Disorders / psychology*
  • Humans
  • Muscle Tonus / physiology*
  • Muscle, Skeletal / physiopathology*
  • Severity of Illness Index