About Cranial Osteopathy


What is Osteopathy?

Andrew Taylor Still

In 1874, Andrew Taylor Still MD (1828-1917) discovered that health can be realized only when all of the tissues and cells of the body function together in harmonious motion. He named his innovative approach to restoring health “osteopathy.” He understood that the human body is composed of many parts, all intimately related as a functional whole. More than a hundred years ago Dr. Still realized that human beings are more than just a physical body. He envisioned a totally new medical system that acknowledges the relationships of the body, mind, emotions, and spirit.

For ten years, as a physician living on the Missouri frontier, Dr. Still researched and developed osteopathy. He discovered that he had the ability to put his hands on patients, change their physiology, and restore health. He developed a very practical way of treating people using his hands. Today, osteopathic physicians continue to use their hands to treat their patient in this same tradition.

In the late 1800s none of today’s miracle drugs, such as antibiotics, were available. Out of necessity, Dr. Still looked first to nature’s own ability to heal and found a way to access this healing ability in the body. Still saw this self-correcting potential as a cornerstone of his osteopathic philosophy. When combined with appropriate use of present day medical therapeutics, osteopathy offers a profound contribution to medicine.

What is Cranial Osteopathy?

William Garner Sutherland

William Garner Sutherland DO (1873-1954) discovered, developed, and taught Cranial Osteopathy in the early to mid-1900s. He was the first to perceive a subtle palpable movement with the bones of the cranium, and went on to discover the continuity of this rhythmic fluid movement throughout all tissues of the body.

As the lungs breathe and the heart beats with a rhythmic alternating expansion and contraction motion, the central nervous system has its own involuntary rhythmic motion. Dr. Sutherland called this inherent activity the Primary Respiratory Mechanism because it seemed to have a respiratory-like motion, with “inhalation” and “exhalation” phases. The hands of a skilled osteopathic physician connect directly with this primary respiratory mechanism to initiate a therapeutic response. Primary respiration is the guiding principle; it is the inherent intelligence within. This primary respiratory motion actually expresses itself through every cell of the body, influencing all body functions. Physicians trained in cranial osteopathy can place their hands on any part of the patient to perceive and influence this important mechanism.

Who Can Benefit from Cranial Osteopathy?

Since the ability to heal persists throughout life, patients of all ages can benefit from this gentle treatment approach. Cranial Osteopathy can help with many different disease processes, from the moment of birth until the end of life. Treatment restores motion, improves vitality (ability to heal), and brings about a higher state of function.

Problems may begin with birth itself, often our first trauma, as the infant’s skull pushes against the birth canal. Some methods used to ease a difficult birth (forceps, vacuum extraction, and anesthesia), although necessary, may add to the trauma. Infants with cranial distortions may present with such problems as infantile colic trauma, inability to suck or swallow, frequent spitting up, chronic ear infections, or even delayed development. Some problems, such as learning disabilities, may not surface until a later date.

Remember, life’s physical and emotional traumas can alter or hinder function at any age, often producing significant effects upon a person’s health. This can cause a wide variety of problems, including low back pain, headaches, joint pain, and repetitive stress syndrome such as tendonitis. The effects of trauma are not limited to the musculoskeletal system. Respiratory, digestive, menstrual, and other systemic disorders may also result from traumatic influences. When indicated, osteopathic treatment may provide significant relief.

What Conditions are Commonly Treated?


System Problems
Neurologic Syndromes
Seizure Disorders
Digestive Disorders
Genito-Urinary Problems
Chronic Infectious Disease
Rheumatic Problems
Delayed Development

Body Pain
Traumatic Injury
Head Trauma
Neck Pain
Low Back Pain
Joint Pain Syndrome

Pediatric Problems
Birth Trauma
Colic, Spitting Up
Sucking Difficulty
Learning Disorders
Cerebral Palsy
Chronic Ear Infections

Problems of Pregnancy
Back Pain/Growing Pain
Digestive Upset

Respiratory Illness
Chronic Infections


What Happens in Treatment?

After a thorough history (including a discussion of traumatic events) and an osteopathic physical exam, the patient, preferable dressed in loose, comfortable clothing, lies down on a treatment table.

The osteopathic physician will typically place his or her hands underneath or over one part of the body to evaluate tissue function and structural dynamics. A thorough diagnosis connects the patient’s history and physical exam to the structural evaluation. A “cause and effect” relationship frequently emerges, and patients are often relieved to know that the symptoms make sense.

Treatment involves a gentle hands-on approach to free the areas of the body in which motion has become restricted. By cradling the head, the sacrum (tailbone), or other areas of the body, gentle pressures and/or repositioning movements are applied to free the bones, tissues, and fluids that have become restricted. Some patients sense only a gentle touch, while others feel their bodies change immediately. Some simply feel a deep sense of relaxation, and others feel nothing at all. Though treatment is very gentle, patients may occasionally experience some discomfort during certain stages of the treatment. If this occurs, it is simply a part of the healing process, and as the treatment progress, the discomfort subsides. As symptoms clear, patients often experience an on-going sense of improved well-being and health. Most treatments take about 20 to 45 minutes.

How Long Does it Take to See Results?


Results depend upon many factors, including the patient’s inherent vitality, and the severity and duration of the problem. Some conditions will respond immediately to Cranial Osteopathy. Some will require a series of treatments. It is important to understand that Cranial Osteopathy is not a cure-all. It can benefit everyone to some degree, because everyone has been imprinted individually by the trauma of life. For some patients it might be necessary to include other types of treatment. For many, Cranial Osteopathy is “the solution” to their problems.


Are DOs and MDs the Same?

Like allopathic physicians (MDs), Doctors of Osteopathy (DOs) educated in the United States, are fully trained and licensed to practice the entire range and scope of medicine and surgery. Here, DOs attend their own medical schools, and then continue in post-graduate training programs, internships, and residencies, often training side-by-side with their MD colleagues.

Doctors of Osteopathy receive additional education in the principles and practice of osteopathy as part of their basic medical education. Those doctors who utilize Cranial Osteopathy have many hours of additional training in the various functions of the cranium and primary respiration, and their relationship to all other parts of the body. This specialized training allows the osteopathic physician to diagnose and treat disorders and diseases in ways that are unique to the osteopathic profession.

Are DOs the Only Cranial Practitioners?

Many healthcare practitioners including “body workers,” massage therapists, physical therapists, and occupational therapists have learned a form of therapy called “Cranio-Sacral Therapy ™.” These cranial-sacral practitioners have been taught simplified techniques that work on a cranial mechanism, but lack the depth and training of a complete osteopathic medical education. Cranio-Sacral™ therapy is different than Cranial Osteopathy both in principles and practice.

Only a physician (DOs/MDs), dentist (DDS/DMD), or qualified international DO/MD is eligible to receive training in the osteopathic cranial concept and become a member of The Osteopathic Cranial Academy. To insure that your physician has received quality training in the cranial concept ask if he or she is a member of the Osteopathic Cranial Academy.

Further Information

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