What is it and how does it work?

Let's Talk - - Contents - By Zuzana Till­ner, reg­is­tered os­teopath and acupunc­tur­ist, Nor­wich Os­teo­pathic Clinic on 01603 504508.

Cra­nial os­teopa­thy was first founded in the 1930s by an os­teopath called Wil­liam Suther­land, who looked at a dis­ar­tic­u­lated skull and no­ticed that the su­tures (the joints be­tween the boney plates of the skull) were bev­elled.

He con­cluded that the bones of the skull were able to move, and so were able to be ma­nip­u­lated by os­teo­pathic treat­ment.

In the 1970s, an­other os­teopath called John Upledger took this the­ory much fur­ther by pos­tu­lat­ing the ex­is­tence of rhyth­mic fluc­tu­a­tions of the cere­brospinal fluid from the sacrum up the spine, and around the head. He thought that these fluc­tu­a­tions could be de­tected by the prac­ti­tioner, al­most like the way a doc­tor can feel your pulse. He pro­posed that dis­tor­tions in that rhythm could re­sult from trauma in­clud­ing child­birth, child­hood injuries, road traf­fic ac­ci­dents and even psy­cho­log­i­cal trauma.

How­ever, modern sci­en­tific scru­tiny has not been able to find any ev­i­dence of a rhyth­mic pul­sa­tion, nor any agree­ment be­tween prac­ti­tion­ers about the pace of the rhythm. Cer­tainly the idea that se­lec­tive pres­sures may be used to ma­nip­u­late the cra­nial bones in adults is con­sid­ered con­tro­ver­sial.

You may be left won­der­ing whether or not cra­nial os­teopa­thy works at all!

In the more widely used ‘struc­tural’ tech­niques, os­teopaths look at gross joint ranges of move­ment and mus­cle spasm, and as­sess struc­tures the same orthopaedic tests used in medicine.

This is very use­ful where there is true joint pathol­ogy such as joint stiff­ness in arthri­tis and de­gen­er­a­tion. How­ever, some­times the prob­lem is a lit­tle more sub­tle and needs a dif­fer­ent ap­proach.

In modern ‘cra­nial’ prac­tice, os­teopaths use their highly de­vel­oped sense of touch to feel sub­tle changes of ten­sion and tis­sue qual­ity to di­ag­nose ar­eas of tis­sue strain and dys­func­tion. They then ap­ply treat­ment through gen­tle pres­sures to the af­fected ar­eas, which is very re­lax­ing and prob­a­bly causes some tis­sues to re­lax with­out ap­ply­ing much force. Al­though the name ‘cra­nial’ im­plies the head, cra­nial os­teopa­thy can be used through­out the whole body.

In prac­tice, it is used in pa­tients who re­spond bet­ter to a gen­tle ap­proach. Dur­ing the treat­ment some peo­ple are aware of dif­fer­ent sen­sa­tion, such as mild ten­sion, aching or sen­si­tiv­ity that grad­u­ally dis­ap­pears, or of feel­ings of warmth and re­lax­ation and it is not un­com­mon to fall asleep.

Cra­nial osteopathy be­ing car­ried out at the Nor­wich Osteopathy Clinic.

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