The #1 Cause of Chronic Muscle and Joint Pain—And How to Treat It


Most of us have suffered from some type of chronic pain—whether it be a sore knee that takes months to heal or a recurring ache in our lower back.

Sadly, a third of the U.S. population lives with chronic pain, and it affects their ability to work, exercise, focus, relax, get a good night’s sleep, and fully enjoy life.

Chronic pain is more than just a health issue. It impacts our productivity, our personal finances, our health insurance costs, and our economy.

In fact, the cost of chronic pain in the U.S. is around $600 billion annually—or $2000 per year for each person living in the U.S. This is more than the costs of heart disease and cancer combined.

The idea that our bodies will break down and that we must experience pain as we age is so ingrained in our belief system that few people stop to wonder why this breakdown occurs and if it might be avoidable. As a result, research funding is spent on developing new drugs that help us manage pain conditions and new surgical techniques that fix worn-out joints, rather than on investigating the underlying cause of chronic muscle and joint pain and degeneration.

While there are many causes of chronic pain, including cancer, autoimmune conditions and neuropathy, the majority of people who experience pain and physical degeneration do so because of the way that they habitually use their bodies—the way that they stand and move, day in and day out. Their posture and movement habits cause their muscles to be chronically tight and sore, their joints and nerves to be compressed, and their bones to be stressed, often to the point of causing actual damage to the structure of their bodies.

Throughout our lives, we each develop unique ways of standing and moving. While most animals come out of the womb already knowing how to move, humans require at least a year of motor learning to reach the same degree of proficiency, and we continue to learn new motor skills and habits throughout our lives.

This is the process of developing muscle memory.

The term “muscle memory” is most often used in the context of sports training, but the ability to form muscle memories is not limited to athletes. Muscle memory pervades our lives, dictating the way that we sit at our desks, allowing us to type and text at lightning-fast speeds, and enabling us to multitask.

Muscle memory is the result of a motor learning process that takes place automatically and constantly within our nervous system. This process is critical to our survival and highly beneficial in our daily lives. Without muscle memory, we would spend all day figuring out how to brush our teeth and get dressed for work. The number of conscious decisions and voluntary movements needed to complete the most basic of tasks would overwhelm us.

Unfortunately, it is easy to develop inefficient and even damaging muscle memories.

And once learned, these muscular habits feel so natural and automatic that they seem to be unchangeable. They are, in fact, so deeply learned that they are nearly impossible to change unless you understand how your nervous system acquires new muscular habits and maintains levels of muscle tension.

The fact that the way we habitually stand and move leads to pain and degeneration is not news. Many health professionals recognize this fact, yet they continue to try to fix our muscle and joint issues by manipulating the structure of our bodies. When their techniques have limited success, our chronic pain and degeneration seem mysterious. They chalk it up to overuse or old age and assume that there is nothing that can be done.

The life-changing news here is the fact that we have the ability to change the way we stand and move through an active learning process. Using the latest research in neurophysiology combined with a great deal of self-exploration, a series of somatic educators have figured out exactly how to release subconsciously held muscle tension and retrain deeply learned muscular habits.

Clinical Somatic Education, a method of neuromuscular education developed by Thomas Hanna, will change the way that the medical community and society as a whole think about chronic pain and physical degeneration. Hanna’s method uses advanced movement techniques that slowly, gently release chronic muscular contraction and adjust posture and movement so that you can stop doing damage to your body.

We can relieve our own pain through a relearning process—using no pills or surgery.

Imagine how being able to prevent and relieve our own pain will impact our health and our finances.

There will come a time—maybe in five years, maybe in fifty—when training our posture and movement will be akin to eating a healthy diet and exercising. It will be widely accepted that we have just as much of an ability to prevent chronic pain and physical degeneration as we do to prevent heart disease, obesity and diabetes.

Getting to this point will require a significant shift in the way we think about our health, as well as fundamental changes in our health care and health insurance systems, but it is only a matter of time.


Why We’re in Pain: Why chronic musculoskeletal pain occurs—and how it can be prevented, alleviated and eliminated with Clinical Somatic Education

Institute of Medicine Report from the Committee on Advancing Pain Research, Care, and Education: Relieving Pain in America, A Blueprint for Transforming Prevention, Care, Education and Research. The National Academies Press, 2011.

Sarah Warren St. Pierre
Sarah Warren St. Pierre is a Certified Clinical Somatic Educator and co-owner of Somatic Movement Center. She is the author of the book Why We're in Pain, which explains the science behind why learned muscular patterns lead to chronic pain and degeneration. St. Pierre has helped people with chronic back pain, neck and shoulder pain, hip and knee pain, sciatica, and scoliosis become pain-free by practicing Thomas Hanna's method of Clinical Somatic Education. She can be reached through Somatic Movement Center at