Understanding Four Types of Osteopathy

Once an osteopath has completed his training, he may further continue his education on specialist training. There are four popular forms of osteopathy, cranial, pediatric, visceral and cranio-sacral. Some may also specialize in athlete treatment.

Cranial Osteopathy

It was developed by Graham Sutherland, an American osteopath in the 1930s. Unlike orthodox medical views that cranium or skull becomes inflexible in adulthood, Sutherland assumed that they still retain limited flexibility. He assumed that a sheath (dural membrane) that encloses the CSF (cerebrospinal fluid) and attaches to the spine and cranial bones will become less flexible after being subjected to birth trauma, falls, and injuries. He argued that this condition would affect the CSF flow, the drainage of sinus fluids and lymph and blood circulation inside the head. Sutherland also thought this could affect normal movement and bending of the spine and restrict joints movement patterns. Sutherland believed that CSF rhythmical pulsations, which happens 6 to 18 times every minute, could be detected with touches. Curiously, it has been discovered that CSF continues to pulse for a couple of minutes after death. He developed some gentle techniques to judge the movement and the quality of cranial rhythm, to restore balance and to release restrictions and tension.

Most people don’t feel any pain during such treatment and in fact they are pleasantly relaxed. Even so, the cranial osteopath requires a highly developed skill and sense of touch and an osteopath must be trained to detect any difference in cranial rhythm. Due to the lack of scientific grounds, the practice and theory of cranial osteopathy are still somewhat controversial, even among most osteopaths. Even so, it is being studied by new generation of osteopaths, especially, by those specializing in pediatric osteopathy, to treat infants and young children. This branch of osteopathy is also appropriate for the elderly, frail, or weak, or for anyone who favors gentler approach.

It has been used for premature infants; some infant problems including colic, teething, and behavioral or sleeping problems; sinus and ear problems; headaches and back pain, respiratory, and digestive problems, also many others.

Cranial osteopathy is usually just one of the methods used by osteopaths at their disposal, while some specialize almost exclusively in cranial treatment.

Pediatric Osteopathy

Pediatric osteopathy uses a number of gentle techniques, for example cranial osteopathy, to treat young babies and newborns. This approach was developed by Stuart Korth, a British osteopath who established the OCC (Osteopathic Centre for Children – www.occ.uk.com) and provided advanced training for qualified osteopaths in pediatric osteopathy. The OCC set up clinics in Manchester and London and treats infants, children and teenagers as well as pregnant women. The OCC has become especially renowned for its treatments on children with cerebral palsy and premature babies. However, just like any pediatric osteopaths, it can also treat a wide range of children’s diseases, including ear infections, asthma, teething, colic, sleeplessness, epilepsy, and growing pains. Various osteopathic colleges, for example the BSO (British School of Osteopathy) and the ESO (European School of Osteopathy) also provide specialist children’s clinics.

Visceral Osteopathy

It originally was based on the works of a couple of American osteopaths, M.D. Young and H.V. Hoover, as both attempted to synthesize the work of John Upledger, the inventor of cranio-sacral therapy and Dr Still, the father of osteopathy.

The word “viscera” means soft internal body organs, the heart, lungs, reproductive organs, and digestive organs. A graduate of European School of Osteopathy, Jean-Pierre Barral, developed concepts of visceral osteopathy as he discovered stress patterns on soft body tissues and how proper osteopathic techniques might be used to ease them.

Barral formulated a system of gentle manipulations of the soft internal organs and the surrounding tissues to treat detected stress patterns. He believed that visceral osteopathic procedures will facilitate improved body function, organ system function, fluid circulation, general wellness and mobility. He also established thermal diagnosis system to discover areas of tension using varying degree of heat.

In 1985, Barral developed a training program in visceral techniques at United States, which has attracted many physical therapists, especially osteopaths. Visceral osteopathy is believed to be particularly appropriate for people after injury, pregnancy, surgery, or trauma but can also be useful to rebalance our body after chronic illnesses such as bladder infection (repeated cystitis).

Cranio-Sacral Therapy

Cranial osteopathy is a postgraduate specialization for qualified osteopaths who already have considerable training and experience in physiology and anatomy and at least 4 years of clinical practice. However, cranio-sacral therapy can be studied and practiced by any non-osteopath with limited and much shorter training. Cranio-sacral therapy was formulated by Dr John Upledger, an American osteopath, when he was a clinical researcher and professor of biomechanics at Michigan State University. He studied the importance of the surrounding membranes on the brain and spine central cord. Building on the concepts of Dr Sutherland about the importance of the CRI (cranial rhythmic impulse) and CSF dynamics (cerebrospinal fluid) in the skull and the spinal chord, Upledger found that it could affect the functions of all cells in human body.

He established a method of extremely gentle pressure on the skull (cranium), or tailbone (sacrum), or elsewhere to relieve tension in these membranes while establishing smooth and unrestricted CSF flow.

This procedure is even more arguable than cranial osteopathy as there are no valid research evidences exist to support its use. Even so, many people report finding this therapy beneficial and deeply relaxing.



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