Disclaimer: Hip pain can be caused by true structural issues and diseases. While Somatic Movement and Clinical Somatics cannot help to fix structural issues or correct any diseases, they can help with muscle pain and tension that stems from these issues.

Humans experience many different forms of stress daily, and our minds and bodies respond to it. Mental and emotional stress begins in the mind but manifests in the body. Examples of mental and emotional stress are concerns about job security, getting in an argument, being stuck in traffic, or the illness or death of a loved one. Physical stress directly impacts our bodies. Examples of physical stress are repetitive tasks or physical habits (working at a computer or carrying a heavy bag), accidents/injuries, or even helpful surgeries. Regardless of the source of stress, our bodies will respond by contracting the muscles.

What does this have to do with hip pain? Everything!

In Clinical Somatics we look at pain conditions, like hip pain, as functional in origin rather than purely structural. This means that what truly affects our movement and health is how we move and use our bodies on a regular basis; aches and pains don’t come out of nowhere. With this in mind, let’s dive into some of the most popular myths about hip pain.

Myth: Hip pain is mainly caused by injuries, arthritis, bursitis, and weak muscles.
Fact: Hip pain is caused by high levels of unconscious and habituated tension in the muscles that attach to the pelvis.

If you ask the internet (as many people do) “what causes hip pain,” you’ll get a list of hip pain conditions. But more importantly, what causes these hip pain conditions? The usual answer is injury or overuse, arthritis, bursitis, and weak muscles. With the exception of injuries, many of these conditions are the symptom rather than the root cause.

Throughout our lives, we accumulate tension in our bodies. This accumulated tension is the cause of most chronic muscle pain and tension: Sensory Motor Amnesia (SMA). The specific pattern of SMA that typically contributes to hip pain and related conditions is the Trauma Reflex. This occurs when one side of the body is tighter than the other, putting the whole body out of balance and creating a ripple effect of pain and tension. The tension may have originated in a different part of the body (knee, ankle, etc.) but, when left untreated, manifests itself in hip pain; the waist muscles on one side of the body pull the hips out of alignment and put more pressure on one hip and the muscles that attach to that side of the hip. The Trauma Reflex is commonly caused by an injury or surgery on one side of the body, or a one-sided movement habit (e.g. carrying a baby on your hip).

When a Trauma Reflex is not addressed, the SMA will continue to build, putting you at risk for a variety of potentially avoidable injuries or other common muscle pain conditions, possibly even necessitating a hip replacement later in life. Bursitis, for example, is typically understood to be caused by “overuse,” which is caused by SMA. Arthritis can be caused by “wear and tear” on the hip joint, which is just another way to say that your hips (and body) are out of alignment due to an unchecked pattern of SMA.

Now, you may be asking, “Are you sure my muscles aren’t just weak?” Yes, we’re sure! (Read on for a more in-depth busting of this myth.)

Myth: Strengthening exercises will relieve hip pain.
Fact: Somatic Movements will relieve hip pain.

How often have you heard from your doctor, specialist, friend, or family member: “Your hip hurts because your muscles are weak. Do more strengthening exercises”? More times than you can count? Us too.

By suggesting that weak muscles are causing your pain, doctors acknowledge that one part of your body is “stronger” than the other and advise you to compensate. The problem is that the “stronger” side isn’t physically stronger—it’s physically tighter and the tightness is creating your pain. Your muscles shouldn’t be treated as though they’re a tug-of-war rope. Instead of making both sides of the rope tighter, you should release the tension on both sides. This is the most effective way to reestablish balance, symmetry, and comfort in your hips.

If you have hip pain, it’s not your weak muscles causing it: It’s Sensory Motor Amnesia (SMA) holding you in a pattern of muscular compensation. If you simply try to strengthen your muscles without addressing your pattern of SMA, you will accentuate that dysfunctional action pattern. You will literally “strengthen your pain.”

To illustrate this point try holding your hand in a fist for a couple of minutes. Really put some effort into it. You’ll find that your forearm and biceps tighten to help keep your fist clenched. You may also feel some discomfort and fatigue set in. Release that fist and feel the blood rush back into those muscles. Muscles that unconsciously hold tension are muscles the brain can neither fully contract nor fully relax. If muscles are contracted and causing pain, they first need to be relaxed and released, symmetry has to be restored, and then strength training will be beneficial to maintain and improve strength in the area.

Myth: Only old people get hip pain.
Fact: Anyone can get hip pain.

Just like anyone can injure themselves, anyone can develop a Trauma Reflex and the hip pain to accompany it. Sensory Motor Amnesia is not age-related. A 15-year-old who tears his ACL while skateboarding and compensates, heals, and heads back to jump on his skateboard may find his hip bothering him after a while, just as a 60-year-old who suffered an accident in her 20s may wonder why her hip joints are stiff and her gait is no longer smooth. Neither the teenager nor the senior was aware of the tension building up in their muscles.

Myth: Hip pain will go away on its own.
Fact: Hip pain requires pandiculation and Somatic Movement to eliminate the root cause: involuntary, unconscious muscle tension.

Extremely minor hip pain might go away. In many cases, it doesn’t and won’t fully go away until you address your muscular pattern of compensation. This is called Sensory Motor Amnesia (SMA) and it won’t go away without learning how to release and relax your affected muscles with Somatic Movements. These movements work by using a technique called pandiculation—a deliberate, controlled tightening, and a slow, conscious releasing of tight muscles followed by complete relaxation. Through pandiculation, you are retraining your brain to retrain your muscles to move more efficiently and effortlessly. This regular retraining of your muscles will help to keep accumulated tension (SMA) and, therefore, hip pain at bay.

Myth: Only your hips will hurt (so what’s the big deal?)
Fact: Unaddressed hip pain can cause a ripple effect of pain in your body.

Your hips do not exist in a vacuum! Sure, only your hip hurts now but what about in 5 years? 10 years? Unaddressed Sensory Motor Amnesia (SMA)  will not go away and will only worsen with time. Eventually, you might need a hip replacement because there’s too much “wear and tear” on your hip joint. And long before that happens, you’ll most likely start to experience other muscular tension and pain in different parts of your body that seem to come out of nowhere.

This is because your brain controls you as a system. If there’s tension or discomfort in one part of your body—your hip(s) in this case—you will develop tension in other areas. Tension can commonly manifest in the body as a tight shoulder, an aching knee, or plantar fasciitis to name a few. When the center of your body is out of balance, your periphery (shoulders, pelvis, legs, arms) will respond and compensate just to move you forward.

Imagine the body is a wheel. If a spoke on a wheel breaks, the wheel won’t collapse immediately because the other spokes will compensate for it. If the broken spoke isn’t fixed, the remaining spokes will continue to have this excess pressure on them until they crack or break, further stressing the wheel until it breaks completely. Addressing your SMA is like fixing the original broken spoke to interrupt the pattern of compensation and restore the integrity and balance in your body.

Myth: A hip replacement fixes your hip pain issues.
Fact: A hip replacement fixes the structural issue in your hip, but not your postural imbalances, potentially setting you up for more muscle pain in the future.

You might feel great after your hip replacement. Like a whole new person! But a hip replacement is just another type of hip injury. While the structural issue will be corrected through the surgery, your pattern of SMA will not be. Anyone who has had a hip replacement knows that while your hip is new and stronger than before, whatever muscle dysfunction or long-term compensation pattern you had before your surgery is still there. You may still be tilting slightly to one side or forward as if your hip still hurt, when, in fact, the pain has disappeared. And what did we say about unchecked SMA? It won’t go away on its own and could cause more problems down the line.

Once your doctor has cleared you for movement, begin addressing your postural imbalances with Somatic Movement so you can move forward with your new hip and a newly balanced and tension-free body. This way you are less likely to experience discomfort in other parts of your body later on.

In conclusion

Whether you’ve already received a diagnosis of your hip pain or you’re searching for more information, understanding the myths and realities of hip pain and its causes will help you to weigh your options. At Essential Somatics® our goal is education: We teach you how to recognize where you hold unconscious tension that contributes to and can cause hip pain. You learn to reduce and relieve chronic muscle tension in your entire body so you can determine for yourself whether your hip pain is a functional problem that is under your control. You are ultimately the expert on your body and why you feel and move the way you do. Education, understanding, and sensible, scientifically-based information and movements are what we can offer you so you can move freely, prevent injuries, and continue your active lifestyle.