Cranial osteopathy is a refined and subtle type of osteopathic treatment that encourages the release of stresses and tensions throughout the body, including the head. It is a gentle yet extremely effective approach and may be used in a wide range of conditions for people at all stages of life, from birth to old age.
It is a very relaxing approach where the osteopath's hands rest gently on different parts of the skull and face. With experience and training, it is possible to detect patterns of tension within the tissues underneath and to work rhythmically with these. While it can appear to be effective at relieving symptoms, cranial osteopathy aims to treat the whole person not just the condition, so patients in a very wide range of situations may benefit. It is also a very conservative and safe form of treatment.
What can cranial osteopathy treat?
Many people believe that cranial osteopathy can cure just about everything from glue ear to stress, infantile colic, asthma, headaches, migraines, sinus problems, recurrent infections, period pain, hormonal problems, digestive difficulties, sleep disorders and so on. To date, no proper scientific research exists to support any of these claims. This may be for several reasons. It would be ethically difficult, for example, to approve a proper clinical trial on babies in distress who could not communicate properly. There is also likely to be a lack of funding available for an expensive trial, where there is no possibility of generating a lucrative drug patent as a result. The theoretical basis that the almost imperceptible rhythms of fluid dynamics within the skull will have a strong influence on physiological wellbeing and that these rhythms can be reliably detected and permanently altered by an external hand also takes a moment to digest.
Without a clear link between cause and effect, it would be wrong to claim that cranial osteopathy has a useful role to play in any of the general medical situations described above. Having said that, I do find that cranial osteopathy is extremely popular with patients. Anecdotally, many report making good progress in a variety of scenarios. When osteopaths examine babies, for example, areas of tension are often found in the spine or head which may indicate that the baby is uncomfortable. A baby can't complain of backache or headache, and will typically express this instead by crying and being unsettled or irritable. In recent unpublished research into the effects of cranial osteopathic treatment, some parents perceived the following changes in their children’s behaviour: reduced colicky crying, improved sleep, less unsettled irritable behaviour and increased quiet happy spells. For further information, please see our page about osteopathy for babies and children.