Somatic Dysfunction


Somatic dysfunction is defined as impaired or altered functions of related components of the somatic (body framework) system. It can include the musculoskeletal, nervous, or lymphatic systems. Physicians use this term commonly in association with soft tissue injuries like strains and strains, but they do differ significantly. Somatic dysfunction occurs from a mechanical restriction first followed by an increase in muscle tone or spasm whereas a sprain or strain would first begin with an injury followed by a mechanical restriction. Somatic dysfunction is a functional impairment

Common Signs and Symptoms

Somatic Dysfunction injuries typically present with the following:

  • Restricted motion
  • Fixation of structures
  • Development of trigger points
  • Compression or entrapment of nerve supply, blood, or lymphatic supply
  • Numbness
  • Tingling


Somatic dysfunction can be caused by acute or chronic postural deviations or alterations of a body part or region. Most commonly this occurs from sudden movements during a slip or fall, but can also be from biomechanical deviations as well as postural abnormalitites. It will typically involve multiple anatomic regions for each patient.

The most common areas where Somatic Dysfunction can be diagnosed are (as listed):

  • The thoracic region (T1-T4), also diagnosed as scapular dyskinesis
  • The thoracic region (T5-T9), also diagnosed as scapular dyskinesis
  • The cervical region
  • The lumbar region.
  • The sacrum/pelvis, also diagnosed as sacral dysfunction

General Treatment Considerations

Once diagnosed by a physician, somatic dysfunction is usually treated by (OMT) osteopathic manual therapy. This type of therapy will usually take the form of manual therapy to manipulate the tissues through trigger point releases, and muscle energy techniques that are used to over-stimulate and stretch the muscles surrounding the restricted area.


Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications, such as ibuprofen, or other minor pain relievers such as acetaminophen, are often recommended. Your doctor may also prescribe a muscle relaxant which can help diminish pain and has a sedative effect on the body. Take these and all drugs only as directed by your physician. Contact your physician immediately if any bleeding, stomach upset, or signs of an allergic reaction occur.

Notify your doctor if you have:

  • Symptoms that get worse or do not improve in 2 weeks despite treatment
  • Swelling on or around the area involved
  • Severe, persistent pain
  • Numbness or loss of feeling below the involved area
  • New or unexplained symptoms that develop

Preventive Measures

  • Appropriately warm up and stretch before practice or competition.
  • Maintain appropriate conditioning, muscle strength and endurance, flexibility, and cardiovascular fitness

Expected Outcome

In acute conditions, most patients can expect complete recovery with appropriate treatment. In chronic cases involving biomechanical or postural deviations, treatment can help alleviate pain and increase mobility to a pain-free or tolerable level of active lifestyle.

Consult your primary care physician for more serious injuries that do not respond to basic first aid. As an added resource, the staff at Nationwide Children’s Hospital Sports Medicine is available to diagnose and treat sports-related injuries for youth or adolescent athletes. Services are now available in five locations. To make an appointment, call (614) 355-6000 or request an appointment online.