Cranial Osteopathy is a form of Osteopathy focusing mostly on the cranium. Cranial = cranium = skull/head.
William Sutherland, a student of Andrew Still (the founder of Osteopathy) quickly discovered some very interesting aspects about the skull bones. It triggered him to spend the rest of his life researching this area.
His research is what eventually became Cranial Osteopathy. He defined it like this.
Cranial Osteopathy is primarily concerned with two physiological phenomena. 1) The movement present in the cranial sutures and 2) a rhythmic impulse within the cranium. (Magoun, 1976: 23)
Cranial sutures = the line/joint where two skull bones meet. In a nut shell then, Cranial Osteopathy is the study, diagnosis and treatment of the cranial bones and the pulsating fluid system within the head and brain.
The brain and the spinal cord are completely covered from top to bottom with a membrane called the ‘dura’. The dura is actually split into 3 membranes. Without going into too much detail, the combination of these 3 membranes actually means the brain, spinal cord and the beginning of the peripheral nerves (the nerves that leave your spine) are completely wrapped up snug.
This dura even coats the whole inside of the skull. On the way to the coccyx the dura has strong attachment sites at the foremen magnum (where the spine exits the skull), the upper 3 neck vertebrae, the sacrum and then finally finishing at the coccyx.
From an anatomy perspective we have 4 major areas where the dura connects to the musculoskeletal system – skull, neck, sacrum and coccyx (as just mentioned). Now if any one of those attachment sites go into dysfunction it can quite clearly have a knock on affect to any of those other corresponding attachment sites.
Remember the body is all connected and all functions together as one unit.
For example if you have a fall on your bottom (quite common) and then a few weeks or months later you start getting headaches or you notice you’re not fully yourself, perhaps you feel more tired than usual or perhaps you are more grumpy.
The fall on your bottom will undoubtedly in some way compress or injure your coccyx. In addition to this injury you have now probably also developed a drag or pull on the dura. This can easily translate to the top of the dura and therefore to the brain and skull bones.
Depending of circumstances or other past injuries just this simple pathway can cause many varying symptoms.
If you are a person that suffers with headaches you must ALWAYS ALWAYS have your coccyx checked at some point. If you haven’t already, it is worth having a Cranial treatment. Also if you have sustained ‘whiplash’ in a car accident and continue to have neck and head pain – get your coccyx checked.
All these dural attachments are interchangeable.
So, in one aspect, Cranial Osteopathy focuses a lot on the dura. Making sure it is not twisted, stretched, restriction or squashed in any way. What is the other aspect of Cranial Osteopathy?
In order to talk about this pulse/movement I first had to introduce you to the dura. As already mentioned, Cranial Osteopathy focuses on the movement of the skull bones and the movement of the fluid within the skull.
This fluid is called the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) and this fluid is housed within this dura.
So wherever the dura goes so will the CSF. The significance of this pulse in Cranial Osteopathy is through the diagnostic approach it offers. Tuning into this rhythmical pulse gives the Osteopath a clear idea of where any restrictions lie, what type of restriction is presenting and generally how well the body is doing.
The CSF pulses at about 8-12 cycles per minute, at an extremely subtle level, completely unlike the vascular pulse or breathing rhythm. Since it is a pulse/wave, there is a uniform movement encapsulated within dura.
So as the wave spreads throughout the dura we can ascertain how well the movement is spreading throughout. Where the wave struggles, stops or is impeded will give us an idea of what type of restriction we are dealing with and more importantly where the restriction is.
Due to the tiny amplitude of this movement, Cranial Osteopathy has to be equally tiny in its treatment approach, otherwise the corrections or improvements will be lost in its application. This is where some critics of Cranial Osteopathy say it is all hocum.
Unfortunately these people are just ignorant. Because it is so delicate it presents itself as a very appropriate form of treatment for pregnancy and babies. Do not be misguided – Cranial Osteopathy is extremely powerful.
Cranial Osteopathy also uses some intricate techniques to move the joints (sutures) of the skull. There is a misconception or belief system that the skull bones do not move, but this is simply not the case. Admittedly the movement is exceedingly small, but it is still enough to produce significant results, either positively or negatively.
With small movements and patience, we can influence a lot of the joints in the head to relieve tension or to free up the dura.
Remember earlier I mentioned the whole skull and brain was coated with the dura and that this pulse of the CSF created a uniform movement within this dura. As a result of this pulse and the expansion of the wave in creates, it can be felt travelling through the bones of the skull.
Again ascertaining the quality of movement at any given point within the skull helps us determine what treatment is needed to which bone.
It is therefore a fantastic treatment protocol for any form of headache, concussion, dizziness, vertigo, blockages in the ear, tooth infections, pressure, chemical reactions in the brain and finally the major hormonal glands in the head (pituitary gland for example).
Anything related to the head and the brain can, in theory, be treated. I have treated a number of patients with tiredness, fatigue and insomnia – all gained noticeable improvements. Within the treatment of the skull bones we can also include in this list the fascial bones, jaw and teeth.