Somatic Nervous System Functions
The somatic nervous system is in charge of carrying motor and sensory information. It is part of the peripheral nervous system. The information gathered by the somatic nervous system is carried to and from the central nervous system. Nearly all voluntary muscle movements and sensory information processing go through the system. The information comes from external stimuli like hearing, touch, and sight. The system reacts to throwing a ball or learning how to dance, as well as everything in between. In addition to voluntary movements, the somatic nervous system also controls some involuntary movements. The involuntary movements are immediate reactions to external stimuli, also known as the reflexes. Involuntary movements include reflexively jerking the hand back when touching something hot or the knee jerk reaction when the doctor taps the knee. The somatic nervous system reacts without conscious input from the brain as a defense mechanism.1
What Is the Somatic Nervous System?
The name of the system comes from the Greek word “soma”, which means “body”. Nerves that connect to sensory organs, skin, and skeletal muscles make up the somatic nervous system. Two major types of neurons are contained within the system: the sensory neurons and motor neurons, and the neurons contribute a large part to the somatic nervous system function. Sensory neurons are also called afferent neurons, and motor neurons are also known as efferent neurons. Sensory neurons carry information from the nerves to the central nervous system, and the motor neurons carry information from the brain and spinal cord to the muscles. The system is a major part of the body and it is widespread. The somatic nervous system plays a key role in daily functions, both consciously and unconsciously. It is constantly receiving, interpreting, and acting on information received from stimuli.2
Autonomic vs Somatic Nervous System
Unlike the somatic, the autonomic nervous system is primarily in charge of regulating unconscious activities. These unconscious activities go further than what the somatic system does. The autonomic nervous system regulates blood flow, sweating, digestion, and similar actions. Though they are different, the two systems work together. For example, a voluntary function controlled by the somatic nervous system, such as running, causes the autonomic nervous system to react by increasing heart rate and blood flow. The autonomic nervous system is further divided into two categories: the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. The sympathetic automatically reacts to stimuli such as fear and physical activity. Meanwhile, the parasympathetic balances its counterpart system by calming down the body after the fear or activity have subsided. With practice, control over the parasympathetic system can be learned. Specifically, this allows people to voluntarily control and calm some sympathetic reactions through breathing exercises.3
Disorders of the System
There are diseases that affect the somatic nervous system. Diseases can affect the nerve roots, ganglia, sensory, and motor nerves. Neuropathy is a functional disorder or abnormal change to any region of the peripheral nervous system. Some of the most common somatic nervous system disorders include neuritis, cranial nerve diseases, cranial nerve neoplasms, diabetic neuropathies, myasthenia gravis, and trigeminal neuralgia. Neuralgia is an inflammation in a peripheral or cranial nerve. Cranial nerve diseases affect the head and regulation of the organs in the thoracic and abdominal cavities. Cranial nerve neoplasms are benign or cancerous growths in the cranial nerve tissues. Diabetes can be the cause of disorders of the peripheral and cranial nerves. Myasthenia gravis is a disease that causes the immune system to attack the skeletal muscles. Trigeminal neuralgia is the most common type of neuralgia, and it causes episodes of intense pain in the face.4
Treatment focuses on the underlying cause of neuralgia, and it also focuses on pain relief. Neuralgia might be treated through surgery to relieve nerve pressure, physical therapy, nerve block, and medications for pain relief. Antidepressants, anti-seizure medications, and even topical creams may be prescribed to improve symptoms, and there is no cure for neuralgia.5 For cranial nerve diseases, the first method of treatment is to relieve pain with medications. Anti-convulsant medications are used, but they are often not effective enough. There are surgical procedures that can be performed to get rid of pain, and there are several types of surgery used to relieve cranial nerve diseases.6 For diabetic neuropathies, the goals of treatment are to slow disease progression and manage complications. Patients have to monitor and regulate their blood sugar and pressure to delay damage and inevitable progression.7
On the other hand, chiropractors can help manage diseases of the somatic nervous system. This form of care can help reduce pain for peripheral neuropathy, but it is not a cure. Chiropractors will address the underlying trigger for the pain, and early diagnosis is the most effective way to reduce the severity of nerve damage. Of course, patients have to talk to their doctor before trying any new treatment. Furthermore, disorders caused by diabetes are potentially very serious.8 In addition to treatment, chiropractors can also encourage patients to strengthen their internal systems. The somatic nervous system benefits from a healthy body, as this allows it to function more efficiently and effectively. In addition, there are other disorders and damage to the nerves that chiropractic care can help to manage. Natural treatment will not always produce a cure, and chiropractic care promotes non-invasive treatment options without the use of medications.
Massage For the Nervous System
Massage has an effect on the nervous system, and this form of therapy promotes blood flow, and massage both relaxes and stimulates the nervous system. The therapy affects neurotransmitters in the brain and helps increase the release of endorphins. The release of endorphins helps ease anxiety and depression by calming the nervous system. Additionally, endorphins help reduce pain caused by a number of ailments. Massage can release nerve roots from compression and decrease nerve entrapment, and muscle tension causes nerve root compression. It also combats restlessness and insomnia, and sleep allows the body to better rejuvenate all of its systems. Massage is not a treatment for all diseases, but it can help relieve symptoms. The therapy should not be the only treatment method, but it can be part of the overall treatment plan. Chiropractors and massage therapists often work together, and they will even work in the same office.9
Learn more about how the nervous system and chiropractic care interact.