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Somatic dysfunction

In osteopathic medicine, somatic dysfunction is the impaired or altered function of the musculo-skeletal system treated by osteopathic manipulative medicine (OMM).



Somatic dysfunction is diagnosed by physical examination. The physician looks for symptoms commonly represented by the mnemonic device "TART" (Tissue texture change, Asymmetry, Restriction, and Tenderness). The physician uses techniques such as layer-by-layer palpation and intersegmental range of motion testing to make the diagnosis.


The physical manifestation of somatic dysfunction is frequently associated reciprocally with visceral illness. Similarly, the resolution of either can aid in the resolution of the other. For example, an infection may be associated with edema (causing a tissue texture change). Lymphatic drainage aids in clearing the infection while, conversely, resolution of the infection causes clearing of associated edema. Thus the physician attempts to aid the resolution of visceral disease by eliminating its associated manifestation in the musculo-skeletal system.


Research in somatic dysfunction and the use of OMM has resulted in mixed conclusions. In a famous article published the New England Journal of Medicine in November of 1999, researchers concluded that OMM and traditional drug therapy resulted in equivalent resolution of lower back pain in a nearly identical time frame. The difference was that those receiving OMM required less pharmaceutical intervention. The advantage of OMM was diminution of adverse drug reactions while the disadvantage was the greater amount of physician time required for each patient.


Ward, Robert C. et al; Foundations for Osteopathic Medicine (2nd ed.). Philadelphia: Lippincot Williams and Wilkins. ISBN 0-7817-3497-5


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