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Somatocognitive therapy in the management of chronic gynaecological pain. A review of the historical background and results of a current approach

Gro Killi Haugstad, Unni Kirste, Siv Leganger, Elin Haakonsen and Tor S. Haugstad


Historic background and development of our somatocognitive approach

Mensendieck physiotherapy of the Oslo School is a tradition of physiotherapy founded by the American physician Bess Mensendieck, a contemporary and fellow student of Sigmund Freud at the Paris School of Neurology. It builds on the principles of functional anatomy and the theories of motor learning. We have further developed the theory and practice from this physiotherapy tradition, challenged by the enormous load of patients with longstanding, incapacitating pain on western health care systems, by seeking to incorporate inspirational ideas from body oriented dynamic psychotherapy and cognitive psychotherapy. We developed somatocognitive therapy as a hybrid of physiotherapy and cognitive psychotherapy by focusing on the present cognitive content of the mind of the patient, contrary to a focus on analysis of the subconscious and interpretation of dreams, and acknowledging the important role of the body in pain-eliciting defense mechanisms against mental stress and negative emotions.

The core of this somatocognitive therapy

(1) To promote awareness of own body, (2) graded task assignment related to the motor patterns utilized in daily activities, (3) combined with an empathic attitude built on dialogue and mutual understanding, and emotional containment and support. The goal is for the patient to develop coping strategies and mastery of own life. In addition, (4) manual release of tensed muscles and applied relaxation techniques are important.

Methods and results of an illustrative study

One area in particular need of development and research is sexual pain disorders. We have applied this somatocognitive therapy in a randomized, controlled intervention study of women with chronic pelvic pain (CPP).Wesummarize methods and results of this study.


40 patients with CPP were included in a randomized, controlled intervention study. The patients were randomized into (1) a control group, receiving treatment as usual (Standard Gynecological Treatment, STGT) and (2) a group receiving STGT + Mensendieck Somatocognitive Therapy (MSCT). The patients were assessed by means of Visual Analogue Scale of Pain (VASP), Standardized Mensendieck Test (SMT) for analysis of motor patterns (posture, movement, gait, sitting posture and respiration), and General Health Questionnaire (GHQ-30) assessing psychological distress, at baseline (inclusion into study), after three months of out-patient therapy and at 1 year follow-up. Results: The women averaged 31 years, pain duration 6.1 years, average number of previous surgical procedures 1.8 per women. In the STGT group, no significant change was found, neither in pain scores, motor patterns or psychological distress during the observation period. In the group receiving STGT + MSCT, significant reduction in pain score and improvement in motor function were found at the end of therapy, and the significant improvement continued through the follow-up (64% reduction of pain scores, and 80% increase in the average score for respiration, as an example of motor pattern improvement). GHQ scores were significantly improved for anxiety and coping (p < 0.01).


Somatocognitive therapy is anewapproach that appears to be very promising in the management of chronic gynecological pain. Short-term out-patient treatment significantly reduces pain scores and improves motor function.


Chronic pelvic pain in women is a major health care problem with no specific therapies and poor prognosis. A novel, somatocognitive approach has documented positive effects. It is now studied by other clinical researchers in order to reinforce its evidence base.

DOI of refers to article: 10.1016/j.sjpain.2011.05.004.

E-mail addresses:


This study was made possible thanks to generous grants from Norske Kvinners Sanitetsforening and Oslo University College, with support from Oslo University Hospital Rikshospitalet and Sunnaas Hospital. We are thankful for considerable contributions over some years from Professor Ulrik Malt Oslo University Hospital and Professor Per Nerdrum Oslo University College.


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Received: 2010-03-05
Revised: 2011-02-24
Accepted: 2011-02-24
Published Online: 2011-07-01
Published in Print: 2011-07-01

© 2011 Scandinavian Association for the Study of Pain