“With fight or flight, for example, even if the threat is psychological, rather than physiological, we have the same kind of response that animals with backbones have when a predator approaches.” Dr. Gordon says. This includes an increased heart rate, a rise in blood pressure, and contractions in big muscles in the body. This could manifest anywhere from the back to the shoulder to the hips.
“When one experiences trauma, their sympathetic nervous system is engaged. This tells your muscles to tense up,” Arizona-based physical therapist who specializes in the pelvic floor Nina Lee explains. “If trauma is not dealt with, storing tension in your pelvic floor and hips can be a chronic occurrence.”
California-based clinical services instructor at Newport Healthcare Jennifer Dragonette, PsyD, explains that a lot of emotions are linked with physical sensations. This could be tension in the jaw when you’re stressed, tension in the lower belly when you’re anxious, or you may be lethargically hunched over when you’re feeling sad or depressed. “When we prevent ourselves from fully experiencing our emotions or from moving all the way through challenging emotions, we can accumulate the buildup of these emotions throughout our body,” Dr. Dragonette says.
For those who follow a more Eastern philosophy of the body and medicine, there’s also the belief that emotions are connected through energy within the body. “In Chinese medicine, we believe that emotions are energy,” board-certified doctor of Traditional Chinese Medicine and acupuncturist Debbie Kung explains. “That if they are not expressed properly at the time that we experience it can be repressed or suppressed in the body.”
She explains that emotions have been shown to store themselves within the fascial system, which she defines as a thin layer of collagen that covers organs and encompasses muscles. It acts as a bodyguard, gives organs their shape, and even has its own blood system.
“Anytime we’re stressed out, or as we age, the fascial tissue, which is usually soft and supple and floats above the muscle layer, becomes hard and stiff, thin and brittle,” she says. “It sticks in the muscle so it doesn’t allow the muscle to move.” This is why your body may feel tight if you’re processing certain emotions. “It’s because it’s full of this emotion that our body’s trying to express,” says Dr. Kung.
Do the hips store more trauma than other parts of the body?
As previously stated, all large muscles can be affected by trauma and store emotions, but this can manifest differently for everyone. “We’re all individuals, so the trauma may be [physically disruptive] in some people, either because it was an area of abuse or because of the vulnerabilities that you brought into the world, in another part of the body,” says Dr. Gordon. This could be the hips, knees, back, or neck — all of which are common areas to store or feel the effects of emotions like stress and trauma.