Cranial or Osteopathy in the Cranial Field (OCF) is one of the many techniques used by Osteopathic Practitioners. Typically used in the treatment of babies and children Cranial is a gentle technique that focuses primarily on the natural rhythm present in all body tissues called the Involuntary Motion or Cranial Rhythm. This rhythm reflects the health of the body and is detected through the movement of the cranial bones and the sacrum. Stresses or strains to the body which negatively influence its health can alter the Cranial Rhythm and results in symptom presentation.
It is a common belief that babies and children should have no structural stresses or strains in their bodies, because they are 'so young'. The reality is very different. Birth is one of the most stressful events of our lives. During the birthing process the baby is subjected to enormous forces, as the uterus pushes to expel the baby against the natural resistance of the birth canal. Then the baby has to turn and twist as it squeezes through the pelvis. The baby's head has the remarkable ability to absorb these stresses in a normal delivery. In order to reduce the size of the head, the soft bones overlap, bend and warp as the baby descends this is why some babies are born with odd shaped heads. In the first few days, the head can usually be seen to gradually lose the extreme moulded shape, as the baby suckles, cries and yawns. However, this un - moulding process is often incomplete, especially if the birth has been difficult. As a result, the baby may have to live with some very uncomfortable stresses within its head and body. This is where Cranial Osteopathy can help. Babies and children are incredibly responsive to Cranial Technique because their cranial bones have not or are newly fused and the gentleness of Cranial Treatments do not shock or stress the child.
Conditions which can benefit from Cranial include but are not limited to:
For babies and children the most commonly treated complaints are crying babies either due to colic, reflux or wind, feeding difficulties, sleep disturbances and ear infections.
During Cranial treatments an Osteopathic Practitioner will use very precise and minute movements to influence the Cranial Rhythm through the bones of the skull or the sacrum (pelvis). Despite the cranial bones fusing after 2 years of age minute movement is still detected between the interlocking areas (sutures) of the cranial bones. Therefore in order to influence the Cranial Rhythm minimal pressure and movement is required. The patient will feel very gentle pressure during a Cranial treatment.
A 5 week old girl was brought to our clinic as she was unsettled and a poor feeder. She would feed for long periods, was inconsolable with trapped wind, had poor weight gain and left her Mum's nipples cracked and bleeding. She did not have a tongue tie. Her labour was lengthened as she turned her head slightly at the last minute.
On examination it was evident that the left side of her jaw or the left temporal mandibular joint (TMJ) did not open as widely as the right. It was shown by the jaw deviating to the left when she opened her mouth or cried. On palpation the left TMJ did not side freely. The myohyoid or tongue muscle was very "tight", consistent with an overused / over recruited muscle. What can be deduced is that when her head turned slightly during delivery the pressure of uterine contraction forced her left TMJ to become compressed and prevent the full opening of the left side of the jaw. The inability to fully and equally open her jaw prevented her from obtaining a correct latch so she took wind in while she fed and damaged her mother's nipples. She tried to use her tongue more to encourage milk let down in compensation for her jaw. Her tongue became fatigued quickly reducing the efficiency of her feed so her feeding took longer and caused one feed to blend into the next. The nerves to the tongue also become irritated by the mechanical strain of feeding accentuating the fatigue. The inefficiency of her feeding reduced the amount of hind milk she consumed leading to a lower weight gain and an unhappy and unsettled baby.
With several Osteopathic treatments we were able to balance the movement of her left TMJ so she was able to fully and correctly open her mouth. Her mother worked with a lactation consultant to help re-establish a correct latch for her little girl and within five weeks she was back up to the 80th percentile for weight.
A 3 week old little boy was brought to me when his mother noticed that he was not turning his head to the left. She tried turning his head to the left while he slept but he would turn it back straight away. He had started to develop flattening of the right side of his head. He had a natural uncomplicated vaginal delivery. When I examined him I found the upper vertebrae on the right side of his neck had reduced motion. The joint where the skull joins the neck is susceptible to the forces of a natural delivery and can be sprained just like in an adult. When this joint is sprained it can limit the ability of a baby's head to turn. It took one treatment to improve and normalise his head rotation but this figure can vary depending on the severity and duration of the sprain. Active stimulation by the parents to encourage the baby to turn their head to the least favoured side will enhance the effectiveness of treatment.