Cranial Osteopathy

Osteopathy is a gentle manual therapy involving soft tissue massage, careful articulation and traction of joints. It may also involve treating organs (like the bowels) and a technique called Cranial or Craniosacral Osteopathy. This is not just for the head and pelvis but for the whole body and is a gentle approach to tissues that are hard to reach otherwise and for patients who are delicate or, as with babies, are not able to fully communicate/cooperate with the practitioner. The principle behind Cranial treatment is the subtle manipulation of the cranial rhythm – a body length oscillation resulting from the combined tissue motions from day to day metabolic processes. By improving the oscillation with careful palpation, the tissue motion can be aided and thereby health restored to the area.

The process of being born can be traumatic for any baby and there are several processes that commonly cause restrictions that can lead to an unhappy and uncomfortable child. Whilst a normal birth is traumatic enough, complications make such problems much more likely. If a pregnancy goes over due date, if there is a face presentation or a breech delivery, if the birth process is particularly prolonged or brief and if either forceps or ventouse are required, all of these things can lead to restrictions throughout the body.

If the restrictions are in the top or sides of the head this will twist the membranes around the brain and insides of the skull limiting the efficiency of lymphatic and venous drainage and function of the nerves coming out of the skull such as the vagus nerve which regulates digestion and breathing which can lead to colic, reflux and wind retention. Restrictions in the base of the head can likewise restrict drainage and can irritate joints and muscles in the neck causing pain and limiting ranges of motion – commonly this can lead to a baby not being able to feed or interact as well on both sides. Furthermore, if there is a restriction of the face or throat the muscles that allow suckling and the jaw can be tightened and lead to an awkward latch causing an unsatisfying feed with more air intake and subsequent wind and colic.

Where the chest and diaphragm become tight there can be irritation of the oesophagus and trachea affecting both the baby’s breathing and digestion and, again, the vagus nerve leading to aggravation of colic symptoms. The diaphragm attaches to the lower six ribs and as well as allowing breathing it also continuously massages the bowels, stomach and liver with each contraction-relaxation phase improving their function and efficiency. If the rib cage is restricted on one or both sides then this will affect not only the digestion of food but the processing of food and blood in the liver as well as myriad other roles carried out there.

Furthermore, along the ribs (where they meet the spine) are a series of nerve bundles called the sympathetic ganglia which act in a similar fashion to adrenalin – if these nerves are excited by local restrictions or tensions then food will not be absorbed so easily and your baby will be jumpy or more easily upset. This latter problem is very common with babies whose birth required intervention (C-section, forceps or ventouse) or who had an unusually short or long birth process.

The bowels, being basically a series of muscular tubes, can also be shocked or tensioned with birthing and if these muscles are too tight then the gentle movement of peristalsis where the food is manoeuvred through these tubes will become impaired and this too can lead to colic like symptoms, constipation or diahorrea. If the pelvis is torsioned then this will affect everything which rests on it from the bowels to the rib cage to the shoulders, neck and head itself!

The aim of Osteopathic treatment is to balance the patient around their own midline and ensure that all tissues are evenly tensioned to promote optimal arterial and neurological supply and lymphatic and venous drainage. With babies we address the muscular tensions, membranous torsions, joint restrictions, organ immobility and nerve entrapment and irritation to accomplish this. It is not only babies who respond well to cranial, other common conditions treated in early childhood are teething pains (by working around the base of the cranium, the neck, throat and face), growing pains (where muscles and tendons do not necessarily grow at the same rate as the bones and can be eased to relieve discomfort) and glue ear (otitis media – working on lymphatic and venous drainage of the ears and improving arterial supply to facilitate immune response) to name just a few.
As children do not have a lifetime of poor posture and bad habits to restrict their bodies they will usually improve faster than an adult will. The first consultation will take between forty-five minutes and an hour and consists of a thorough case history, an examination including checking for developmental milestones and reflexes and then around fifteen to twenty minutes of actual treatment. Throughout this process you will be kept informed as to diagnosis and expected prognoses and you will be given advice as to what you can do at home to help your child and to make the treatment more effective. Follow up treatments, if required, will take between thirty and forty minutes and will consist almost entirely of treatment. For an average problem most babies may require up to two or three treatments. If there is a complex problem, for instance restrictions due to a ventouse delivery, then this may take up to five or six treatments. Any Osteopath you may wish to consult for advice as to the suitability of treatment or with regards to treatment itself will be registered with the General Osteopathic Council (www.osteopathy.org.uk) and can be found on their website though not all Osteopaths use Craniosacral technique so it is worth checking first.

Adam Weisbaum BSc(Hons)Ost

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