What Is Somatic Dysfunction?

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  • Written By: S. Berger
  • Edited By: Shereen Skola
  • Last Modified Date: 29 June 2019
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The musculoskeletal, myofascial, and nervous systems make up the somatic systems of the body. Somatic dysfunction refers to a change or an impairment of these structures that can result in many symptoms, such as pain, tenderness, or restricted motion. Osteopathic manipulative technique, or osteopathic manual technique, is often used to diagnose and treat this type of dysfunction. This type of osteopathic medicine, consisting of treatments for the musculoskeletal system, can help to relieve both the symptoms of the dysfunction and the underlying condition.

Several components of a somatic dysfunction can be used to make a diagnosis. Osteopathic doctors often make a diagnosis by palpating, or feeling, an individual's body, or by testing the range of motion of various joints. A person with this type of dysfunction will usually exhibit four classes of symptoms. These include tenderness of the affected area, asymmetry between the affected area and the same region on the other side of the body, as well as a restricted range of movement. Also, the part of the body with the dysfunction may show a change in texture.


The treatment for a somatic dysfunction may sometimes be performed by an osteopathic doctor or a chiropractor. Therapy may include the use of osteopathic manual technique, which involves directly applying pressure to the area with the dysfunction, or the application of pressure nearby. This pressure helps to relieve muscle tension, in turn relieving pain and increasing the range of movement. It may also help to realign joints, improve the flow of body fluids around the affected area, and heal abnormalities.

Using this type of osteopathic medicine to treat somatic dysfunction has been shown to be effective by research. In a study performed at the Texas College of Osteopathic Treatment, individuals diagnosed with this type of dysfunction were treated with osteopathic manipulative technique. Among these patients, 96% of the areas that were treated showed improvement after administration of the therapy. Treatment of this nature was sometimes combined with administration of painkilling and anti-inflammatory medications to help relieve symptoms.

Both symptoms and the underlying causes of somatic dysfunction may be relieved by this form of therapy. For example, an infection that damages the nearby tissue may clear up after osteopathic medicine is used. These treatments help to drain lymph from the affected area, which, in turn, helps the infection to heal. This is why such therapeutic methods are often recommended by doctors in cases of somatic dysfunction.


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