Could Your Emotions Be to Blame for Your Joint Pain?

woman crying in her bedroom
Stress and trauma can cause tightness in your hip flexors, which can lead to joint pain. (Image: Adobe Stock/Monkey Business)

Unfortunately, aches and pains are a part of life. You might wake in the morning to discover your hips are incredibly tight or feel a stabbing pain in your knee as you walk around. Those nagging aches can have a variety of causes: sitting too long, lifting with your back instead of your legs, certain types of exercise like running or cycling or an old injury flaring up.

But there’s another, lesser-known cause that may surprise you. Sometimes stress and trauma can cause you to experience tightness in the hip flexors as well — and that can lead to joint pain.

Because the psoas major (part of the hip flexors) is a fight-or-flight muscle, any trauma (be it emotional or physical) can lead the muscle to grip and hold stress, sometimes for years, says Jo Ann Staugaard-Jones, author of “The Vital Psoas Muscle: Connecting Physical, Emotional, and Spiritual Well-Being.” “Relaxation techniques are key to its healing and release.”

The Psoas and Trauma

The psoas major is so closely related to emotional stress and trauma that yoga instructors, psychologists and trauma researchers alike are beginning to tap into this connection.

In recent years there’s been a push to understand the ways our bodies can hold on to trauma. Bessel van der Kolk, M.D., explains the connection between the brain and the body’s response to trauma in his 2015 book, “The Body Keeps the Score.” These stressors can be big, life-changing traumas, and they can also be normal, expected stressors that you experience in everyday life.

Dr. van der Kolk’s work is connected to sensorimotor psychotherapy, a methodology that views the body as an untapped resource in the healing of trauma — meaning what you do with your body physically can help it heal emotionally.

Single Pigeon pose exercise
Yoga is a great way to relieve hip tightness. (Image: fizkes/iStock/GettyImages)

3 Ways to Relieve Hip Tightness

When you’re experiencing this kind of emotion-based muscle tightness, the best course of action is to slow down and to pay attention to the pain.

“Our bodies are not out to get us. They’re our friends. They’re trying to help us survive,” says Isabelle Richards, a trauma therapist at the Zacharias Sexual Abuse Center based in Gurnee, Illinois. “So let’s make friend with our bodies.” Here are three ways to help with the healing process — both physically and emotionally.

What Do YOU Think?

Do you suffer from lower-back, hip or knee pain? Did you ever think there could be an emotional component? Have you ever done any of these stretches for your tight hips? Share your thoughts and questions in the comments below!


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