“Mind over matter” isn’t a phrase that leaps immediately to mind when people think about joint or muscle pain. When joint pain strikes, most people tend to think in terms of overexertion or old age, but the truth is that sometimes our very thoughts can betray our bodies and cause or contribute to joint and muscle pain.

That might seem silly on its face, but the science behind it is solid, and once you understand it, it’ll go a long way toward explaining aches and pains that have no other apparent cause. Here’s the low-down:

When you’re anxious and stressed, your body responds by tensing up. This is part of the “fight or flight” response and is driven by cortisol levels in your body. The more stressed you are, the higher your cortisol levels will be, and the more stiffness and tension you’ll feel in your muscles.

That causes your joints to have to work harder, which leads directly to the second big problem: inflammation. When muscles become inflamed, you feel it in the form of an aching, burning sensation, and voila! Your stressful thoughts have lead to joint stiffness and pain.

Obviously, this is an oversimplification. Sometimes your joints are screaming in protest because you really did overdo it, or because you’re getting older and that just comes with the territory. This isn’t always the case, though, so when you start to feel aches and pains in your body, it’s important to take a few minutes to do a quick self-assessment.

Maybe the problem is that you tried to do too much. Maybe it’s that you’re stressed to the max and your body is sending you a clear and unmistakable message.

Sure, in the short run, you can ease the pain by taking over-the-counter or prescription medications or bump up the frequency of your chiropractor visits, but in at least some of the cases, the thing that will do the most to fix the problem is to relax, unwind and de-stress.

This is definitely something to think about.