Muscle tension in generalized anxiety disorder: Elevated muscle tonus or agitated movement?


Address reprint requests to: Rudolf Hochn-Saric, M.D., Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions, Department of Psychiatry, Meyer 115, 600 North Wolfe Street, Baltimore, MD 21287–7144.


The purpose of this study was to investigate the amplitude characteristics of frontalis and gastrocnemius electro-myographic (EMG) activity in clinically anxious and nonanxious populations. Eighteen women with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) and 19 nonanxious women were compared during baseline, laboratory stressor, and recovery conditions. EMG mean levels were greater for the GAD group, but there were no group differences in EMG skewness. During the stressor the GAD group had a significant reduction in frontalis EMG variability. Gastrocnemius muscle activity for both groups during the stressor condition increased in mean levels and variability while decreasing in skewness. These results indicate that clinically anxious individuals have elevated muscular tonus and have reduced variability in frontalis activity during stressful tasks. Also, the gastrocnemius muscle exhibited a stressor reactivity, whereas the frontalis did not. This study presents an approach to EMG analysis that could be useful in distinguishing unique features of anxiety as well as other emotional disorders.