This rhythm is called the primary respiratory motion. It involves the whole body including the head, hence the adjective cranial. It is a slow, rolling motion similar in quality to that of an ocean wave. In one phase the whole body (including the head) very slowly and subtly widens, with an accompanying outward rotation of the limbs.
From Upledger and Vredevoogd, Craniosacral Therapy, 1983.
In the opposite phase, the body narrows and the limbs inwardly rotate.
Upledger and Vredevoogd, ibid
This motion is carried throughout the body not only by the nervous system, but also by the fascia or connective tissue that envelops the muscles, bones, and organs. Injuries may cause tightness of the fascia thereby restricting the motion of joints and subtly disturbing body posture. This may lead to stiffness and pain.
With practice and concentration, primary respiratory motion can be felt with the hands. Restrictions of motion can be detected and “tight” areas of the body can be identified. Treatment may consist of a very gentle stretching of tight tissue or “unwinding” of areas of tension. Or alternatively the innate “energetic” (electromagnetic?) properties of the hands may used to create a relaxation of the underlying tissues. As tension is released, the patient often feels a drowsiness, a heaviness of the limbs, and/or a pleasant light-headedness. This typically lasts 15 minutes or more.
In the days or weeks following a treatment, body posture adjusts. Sometimes, but not always, this is uncomfortable with pain felt in the same or a new location. When this occurs, it may be taken as an encouraging sign. Long-standing or complicated problems may take several treatments to resolve. Treatment is performed approximately every three weeks to allow the body to come to a new equilibrium between sessions.
Cranial osteopathy has several advantages over other forms of osteopathic manipulation. The most important one is its ability to treat mechanical problems involving the head. Most people (and this includes physicians) are not aware that the skull is made up (in life) of moving plates of bone. With injury, the bones may not move as freely as they should and (as osteopathic philosophy would predict), consequences arise. The results may be headache or facial pain, problems with the eyes, ears, or sinuses, neckache, or even remote problems such as shoulder bursitis, low back instability, or “growing pains”.
Mechanical problems involving the head are not obvious and are easily overlooked. Usually there is a history of head trauma, but it may have occurred many years before and the connection is not made. The trauma may have been a blow causing disorientation, loss of consciousness or loss of memory but at times it may have not seemed particularly serious. A difficult dental extraction for example, may result in disturbed cranial mechanics, tempero-mandibular joint clicking, and chronic headaches or facial pain.
One of the most potentially dangerous experiences for head mechanics is the birth process. Difficult deliveries, especially ones involving forceps or vacuum extractors can be quite traumatic for the baby’s head. Even caesarian births seem to be associated with disturbances of cranial mechanics, although how this happens is less clear.
Babies injured in this way may present with infant colic or “fussiness”, or, as they grow a little older, with recurring ear infections, or a “lazy eye”. When they reach age six or more, they will often have “growing pains” or nighttime bed-wetting. Headaches may appear at any stage. Children commonly understate these headaches, considering them a normal part of life.
The good news is that many of these conditions are treatable with cranial osteopathy. Most of them require only one or two treatments and are not unpleasant for the baby or young child. They may also prevent problems later in life, such as migraines, low back instability and other musculoskeletal pain problems.
Childhood Indicators of Potential Benefit from Cranial Osteopathy
– birth trauma
– caesarean birth
– infant colic
– excessive thumbsucking
– recurring ear infections
– strabismus (or “lazy eye”)
– “growing pains”
– torticollis (or “wry neck”)
– headache in childhood (including migraine)
– dyslexia or other learning disabilities
– cerebral palsy
Adult Indicators of Potential Benefit from Cranial Osteopathy
– musculoskeletal pain of all types, especially those that do not “make sense”
– headache, including migraine
– cranial nerve entrapment, including Bell’s palsy and tic doloureux
– post-traumatic epilepsy
– temperomandibular joint dysfunction
– intermittent difficulty in visual focusing
– personality change after head or neck trauma
– non-specific balance disturbance
– bruxism (teeth grinding)
– sensitive teeth
– chronic sinus and/or nasal congestion
– recurring shoulder tendonitis and/or bursitis
– carpal tunnel syndrome
– thoracic outlet syndrome
– unstable low back
– non-specific cystitis
– coccygodynia (painful tail bone)
– foot pain, including “plantar fasciitis”