Yes, stress and anxiety can cause chest muscles to spasm, resulting in scary “chest pain.”

Chest pain has many causes, including a heart attack in progress, clogged coronary arteries, and muscle spasms induced by stress or anxiety.

“Yes, in extreme cases of stress and anxiety, the chest muscles can tighten just like other muscles in the body in a very anxious and stressed-out person,” says Dr. Sameer Sayeed, a cardiologist at ColumbiaDoctors of Somers, NY.

“The chest muscles when they do spasm can cause wavering chest pain that can sometimes be mistaken for chest pain related to the heart, and can make people panic and make a trip to the ER.”

If this seems to be happening to you, get a complete exam by a cardiologist to make sure that any symptoms you’re having are not related to your heart. 

Stress and anxiety can also cause chest pain as a result of a condition called angina pectoris:

The anxiety or stress increases the body’s oxygen demands, forcing the heart to pump harder.

“Due to constricted arteries (because they’re clogged with plaque), oxygen flow is compromised, resulting in “chest pain,'” says Dr. Sayeed.


“The differentiation between muscular and real chest pain can be made by pressing on the chest muscles which may be tender or may be relieved with pressure, whereas this would not occur with real chest pain,” explains Dr. Sayeed.

So next time you experience this symptom, see what happens by stretching your pec muscles.

This can be done by placing both forearms against the outer portion of a door frame and leaning forward.

Another thing to do is to flap the arms back and forth while holding them in a horizontal position, palms facing forward. These motions may make the symptom disappear or diminish.

However, Dr. Sayeed adds, “Also, having the person move or twist their upper body and their arms can sometimes worsen such spasm pain, whereas real cardiac chest pain would not change.”

Dr. Sayeed performs echocardiograms and stress tests at the Midtown Manhattan and Westchester offices at Columbia Doctors. He is also trained in cardiac CT imaging.
Lorra Garrick has been covering medical, fitness and cybersecurity topics for many years, having written thousands of articles for print magazines and websites, including as a ghostwriter. She’s also a former ACE-certified personal trainer.  


Top image: Shutterstock/Robert Kneschke