Find out more about structural osteopathy, visceral osteopathy and cranial osteopathy below.
Structural osteopathy describes the diagnosis and treatment of dysfunctions in the musculoskeletal system - i.e. treating problems originating from tissues such as muscles, ligaments, fascia and bones. Restrictions within the musculoskeletal system can have their origins in dysfunctions of bones and joints, muscle tensions and fibrosis, fascial adhesions, etc.
Based on specific principles, structural osteopathy recognizes the importance of the interdependence between the structure and function of all body components, including the musculoskeletal system. A dysfunction of a given joint or tissue, generally characterized by a decrease in mobility and tightness, will affect the biomechanics and overall function of that area. As a result more strain may be forced on surrounding structures which have to compensate. With time and chronicity, the increased stress on the body resulting from that dysfunction will progressively exacerbate compensations in other structures which lead to the conditions which benefit from structural osteopathic treatment.
Visceral osteopathy involves diagnosis and treatment of dysfunctions of the organs of the body. Andrew Taylor Still, the founder of osteopathy considered that "mobility is life". Physiological mobility and motility of an organ is the ability for relative movement within the abdominal and thoracic cavity. This freedom of movement provides bodily organs enough elasticity and room to accomplish their digestive, respiratory and circulatory function. The organ's mobility can be adversely affected for various reasons, from intense emotional stress, direct trauma, scar tissue, surgical adhesions, toxins (e.g. drugs & alcohol), to infections and chronic musculoskeletal problems.
A restriction in the mobility of an organ will inevitably result with an impairment of the organ's function. With chronicity the dysfunction may lead to changes in the organ's structure. For example, a dysfunction of the stomach will often trigger an impairment of the acid/mucus production and may lead to acid reflux. Diagnosed in time, this process is often reversible. However, if untreated, this condition can degenerate and result in more serious health problems such as ulcers.
Established at the beginning of the 20th century by W.G Sutherland, cranial osteopathy is based on diagnosis and treatment of involuntary rhythmic motion of the body. As the lungs breathe and the heart beats with a rhythmic alternating expansion and contraction, the central nervous system (CNS) also has its own involuntary rhythmic motion, known as the Primary Respiratory Mechanism (PRM). This is particularly palpable for osteopaths in the cranial bones (bones of the head) but cranial osteopaths are trained to feel subtle, rhythmical fluctuations in shape that are present in all body tissues.
Cranial osteopathy is a refined and subtle type of osteopathic treatment that uses very gentle touch to encourage the release of stresses throughout the entire body. It is extremely effective in treating a wide range of conditions in people of all ages and particularly suitable for infants and children.
The skull is made up of twenty two bones which are intricately joined and during the rhythmical cycle of PRM, the skull changes shape to accommodate the motion of the tissues and fluids inside. If the PRM is reduced or disrupted, it can result in a wide variety of problems in the cranium and in other areas of the body. Using PRM, an osteopath feels whether a person is in an optimum state of health, or whether there is something preventing healthy movement of the tissues and fluids from occurring.
Most of us have been exposed to physical trauma at some stage in our life. The body may have absorbed the effects of this at the time, but a lasting strain often remains. Illnesses and emotional trauma can also leave lasting physical effects. Gradually, the body may find it more and more difficult to cope with accumulated stresses and symptoms may start to show.
During a cranial osteopathic treatment, the practitioner first assesses the patient's PRM as well as any specific restriction of the structures - typically palpating the cranial, thoracic and sacral bones. Gentle pressure may then be applied to correct and restore the mobility of the affected structure. As a result, the correct function of the nervous system and the flow of cerebro-spinal fluid can be restored, allowing the body's self-healing ability to function optimally. Cranial osteopathy thus affects the whole body by enabling homoeostasis (stable good health).
With its very gentle approach, cranial osteopathy is suitable for patients of all ages. It is particularly helpful for infants and children, as the cranial system suffers immense stress during birth. Babies who are unsettled or suffering from common conditions such as colic, otitis media and torticollis are often affected by cranial tensions.
In adulthood, cranial osteopathy can help to release tensions arising from emotional and physical stressors.