What is it and how does it work?
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.