What is Cranial Osteopathy & How is it Different from Physiotherapy?

Avatar for Mish Khot By in cranial osteopathy, osteopath, osteopathic clinic on 19/09/2023
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Osteopathy takes a holistic view of the musculoskeletal system – the bones, tissue, ligaments, and muscles – and its impact on our health. It believes that if the structure of the body is correct, it will function as it should and heal itself when injured. Cranial osteopathy follows the same principles but deals only with the head and spine.

How does osteopathy work?

Although it works with the physical body, osteopathy believes that many other factors can cause problems. During diagnosis and treatment, it also looks at genetic medical history, past injuries, and the lifestyle and habits of the customer.

During treatment, an osteopath works on the whole body to encourage it to function better and to heal the injured part. Essentially, it aims at rebalancing the system by improving the structure.

An osteopath will massage, stretch, and manipulate the muscles and joints to improve alignment and increase flexibility. This also serves to boost the circulation of oxygenated blood to the tissues, enhancing healing and encouraging better nerve and muscle health. It is considered effective for pain relief and strengthening weak or dysfunctional body parts.

Who should try osteopathy?

Osteopathy can be safely practised on children, adults, and elderly patients. It is also considered safe for pregnant women, injured athletes, those with chronic illnesses, and babies. The treatment should be done by trained and experienced osteopaths for everyone.

Osteopathy clinics can offer advice and treatment for the following:

  • Health problems caused by incorrect posture
  • Incorrect alignment of the bones or joints
  • Migraines
  • Lower back pain
  • Injuries due to sports or lifestyle
  • Pain related to pregnancy
  • Complications related to arthritis or rheumatism

Is osteopathy the same as physiotherapy?

Osteopathy is very similar to physiotherapy in that it deals with musculoskeletal pain and aims to heal the structure and posture of the body. Both practices use touch and hands-on treatment to work on the client. However, there are some differences in the approach that both schools of thought apply to the treatment.

Osteopathy views the body with a wider perspective of previous injuries, lifestyle and habits, genetic preconditioning, and other factors. It believes that the body can heal itself if enabled to do so by gentle realignment and targeted massage. When treating a complaint, an osteopath will spend time conditioning the whole body to prevent similar injuries in the future.

Physiotherapy is similar to Western medicine in its approach to healing. It works extensively on the affected area, focusing on strengthening and maximising the function of that body part. It does not consider the whole body, although a physiotherapist will also conduct an assessment of any pre-existing health conditions and lifestyle before beginning treatment.

Physiotherapy believes in the ability of specific exercises or actions to heal and strengthen the body, while osteopathy believes in enabling the body to heal itself.

What is cranial osteopathy?

Cranial osteopathy focuses exclusively on the head and neck, although sometimes may also involve the spine. It is a gentle form of treatment that uses touch and massage on specific points of the head and neck, to release stress and reduce pain in the body.

Cranial osteopathy is also useful as a treatment for those who do not enjoy massage or are sensitive to touch. It can be relaxing and stress-releasing and is a good way to improve overall wellness.

How does it work?

A cranial osteopath will use gentle massage to stimulate the soft tissue and the skull to release tension. The treatment relaxes muscles around the neck, face, and head, and reduces tightness. This frees the circulation of blood, lymphatic fluid, and cerebrospinal fluid encouraging the flow of oxygen to all parts of the head and neck.

Who can benefit from cranial osteopathy?

Cranial osteopathy is an option for all ages, and has been reported effective for the following cases:

  • Constipation, Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
  • Migraine, stress headaches
  • Scoliosis
  • Asthma
  • Neck, shoulder, or ear pain
  • Sinus problems, colds
  • Pain in joints
  • Back and hip pain
  • Lifestyle conditions like carpal tunnel syndrome
  • Postural problems

It’s also been reported as very helpful for patients undergoing treatment for serious diseases like cancer. 

Cranial osteopathy for babies and children

Cranial osteopathy is very gentle and hence can be performed on newborn babies as well. Babies who have endured a difficult birth or suffer from colic, disturbed sleep or feeding cycles may be soothed and calmed by cranial osteopathy.

What does cranial osteopathy feel like?

cranial osteopathy

As a very gentle form of therapy, cranial osteopathy can appear ineffective, especially during the first session. However, it works by opening up channels for the flow of fluids in the body and allows oxygen to freely reach all organs and limbs. During the massage, you might feel a mild tingling feeling or warmth washing over you.

After the session, you may experience better sleep and appetite or you might feel as if you’re breathing has become easier. Any lingering aches and pains will fade, and some people even report feeling happier and lighter.

What to expect in your first cranial osteopathy session

Before you begin, your osteopath will conduct a full assessment with you to understand your medical history, genetic conditions, lifestyle, and any major past traumas or stresses. This is an important part of the diagnosis process, so do take the time to answer all the questions to the best of your ability.

For your session, the osteopath will ask you to lie down and may ask you to loosen your collar. He or she will gently palpate the head, looking for tightness or knots or any signs of tension. The session may take anywhere between 40-60 minutes.

After your session, and for the next few days, your body is working on healing and rebalancing itself. You should drink plenty of water, eat light, healthy food, get enough sleep at night, and try to avoid any major stressful situations.

If you want to book an appointment with an osteopath near you, Avaana can help you.

Avatar for Mish Khot

Mishana Khot is a fiction author and co-founder of The Great Next, an adventure travel company. She has been featured in National Geographic, Forbes magazine, and other publications, and has over 15 years of experience with health, travel, and lifestyle brands.

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