The majority of your body is made up of water (between 60% and 80% depending on your age, sex and body type). Carried by this water are all sorts of things such as oxygen, nutrients and waste products and cells that are crucial to “life”, such as the red and white blood cells. The correct flow of this fluid is essential in keeping the body healthy and vital. If there isn’t enough fluid moving into an area it won’t get the oxygen and food that it needs to survive. If there isn’t enough fluid moving away from an area, toxins will build up and the area will become inflamed. Cranial Osteopathy is a technique that studies and aims to correct any disturbance in this fluid flow. We believe that the flow of this life-giving fluid around the body is the most important factor in life and as such we refer to it as the primary respiratory axis. The fluid passes as a wave up and down the body between (on average) 14-21 times a minute and can be felt by a trained hand. It is very similar to feeling a persons pulse at their wrist but the flow is much more subtle than that so very gentle touch and pressure is used. As the fluid moves up and down the body it gentle pushes on the tissues and bones of the body causing them to move, just like a wave will cause a boat to bob up and down in the sea. The state of the tissues of the body will determine how the fluid will flow. If the tissues are tight or twisted the fluid will find it harder to move through the area. As seen above, poor fluid flow will result in an area starting to suffer, and this can be the seat of tissue damage, of poor tissue healing and of disease.
The technique is called Cranio-sacral Osteopathy since we see the body as essentially being “slung” between the head (the cranium) and the pelvis (a part of which is a bone called the sacrum). All bone is plastic in nature, it has flexibility due to its high water content. The joints of the skull aren’t fixed solid, they allow for a small amount of movement. As the fluid moves up into the head it causes a very subtle movement in the skull, just as it does in the pelvis and the rest of the body. If the head and/or the pelvis are restricted this can hugely affect the fluid flow around the body, and thus the person’s health. Imagine that your body is a skipping rope and that your head and pelvis are the handles and your body is the rope. If you put the rope on the ground with the handles too close together the rope would lie twisted limply on the ground. If you pulled on the handles hard, the rope would straighten, become too tight and then snap. Much better to have the handles just the right distance apart so that the rope is nice and straight but not over-tight. We often talk of the skull being a plastic ball to which a pump has been attached. If the pressure in the ball is increased it will expand. If you then let the pressure out of the ball it will re-coil and contract under its own elasticity/plasticity. The amount of expansion/contraction in the ball will depend on the pressure change and the plasticity of the ball. The greater the pressure and the softer the plastic, the more movement! From this you can see that if the skull is tight due to mechanics restrictions, or the fluid drive is poor the movement in the skull will be impaired. A Cranial Osteopath can feel this change.
SOME EXAMPLES OF WHY IT’S NEEDED
The birth process is extremely physical, both for the mother and the child. The baby is squashed into the womb for many months then squeezed through the birth canal. The bones of the skull are designed to fold over each other during the birth process to make the head smaller, and thus easier to deliver.
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During the birth process the descending baby should push the mothers’ sacrum (the triangular bone at the back of the pelvis) out of the way, thus making much more room for itself to pass. However, birthing techniques that involve the mother either lying or sitting on her back and buttocks create issues since the sacrum has nowhere to go, it can’t get out of the way since the mother is sat on it. In this situation the birth canal is smaller than it could be. This can lead to longer labours and the increased interventions such as forceps and ventouse (vacuum pump). The increase in pressure due the smaller birth canal, the longer labour and any medical aids will have an affect on the baby, particularly the skull, jamming up the joints and stretching tissues. These compressions and stretches can form the tensions that later go onto cause mechanical problems (in the skull and pelvis especially). This is not to say that active birthing positions (standing, kneeling, squatting etc) prevent problems but they do help reduce the forces placed on the baby. Babies delivered by C-section are still exposed to a lot of force, especially if they are an emergency C-section due to them getting stuck. In this case the uterus is still contracting very hard trying to push the baby out, but since it’s trapped all the force of the contractions is squashing the baby up against its head. If they are then delivered by C-section they miss out on what we see to be a “corrective” part of delivery. Once the baby’s head has been delivered but the rest of the baby is still in the birth canal the head is essentially popped back out into shape (it’s a very gradual process but this is the point in time where we think it gets a kick-start). This is because the head is no longer being compressed but the rest of the body is. This causes fluid to move to head increasing the pressure in the head and balloons it out from its compressed “state” (remember that the bones overlap in the birth canal). Think of it as squeezing a toothpaste round in its tube. Crying and suckling are both seen as corrective forces since they pump the bones of the head and wiggle them free. It is thought that babies that cry or suckle a lot are often instinctively trying to free of jammed skull joints. Since all babies are squashed in the womb and thus exposed to forces Cranial osteopaths recommend that every baby should at lease have a check-up.
More recently there has been a move towards using what are effectively miniature cycling helmets on babies to correct physical deformities in the shape of baby’s heads. These deformities typically can develop as part of the birth process or due to the baby resting his or her head on the same side as they sleep. This can cause a flattening, typically on the back right hand side of the head. This condition is referred to in several different ways such as posterior plagiocephaly, nonsynostotic occipital plagiocephaly or posterior positional plagiocephaly, though it is often referred to as positional skull flattening as this is more understandable.
HOW WE DO IT…By knowing how things should be moving we can work out where there is tension, and once we know this we can use very gentle forces to re-align and balance the tissues. This will allow the body to “un-wind” and settle, and for healing to take place. Restoring the correct fluid flow to an area will improve its health and vitality.
Ideally from a Cranial point of view, all babies should be treated as soon as possible after birth on a prophylactic basis, even if they appear outwardly “in shape”. This is because they all, even the caesareans, will have been exposed to some degree of force. No single skull and pelvis is prefect after birth that is not possible. Neither will treatment make any skull or pelvis perfect, but it can so often help restore a degree of normality to the balance of the tissues.
Philip Waldman D.O. FSCCO, Registered Osteopath is the Osteopath and Cranial Osteopath at Chelsea Natural Health. He has many years of experience and deal a lot with babies, pregnancy related issues and all other age groups.