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Paediatric Osteopathy

Osteopathy for Children, Pregnant and Post Partum Mums

Understanding Osteopathy For Children

What Is Osteopathy?

Osteopathy is a method of diagnosis and treatment based on the relationship between the structure and function of all the tissues within the body. All parts of the body, including the cranial bones, need to be in good alignment with each another and be able to move normally.

"Cranial Osteopathy" evolved from the observations of Dr Sutherland in 1899. He observed that the 22 bones of the skull interleave in a way designed for movement: they fit together 'like gears of a watch', moving minutely, influencing each other and the tissues underneath (the brain, cerebrospinal fluid and membranes).

Every cell and all the fluids within the body also exhibit rhythmic, involuntary movement. Where this is blocked or reduced, our body's own natural healing mechanism may be impaired. Restrictions can happen in the cranium, the lymphatic system, sinuses, joints, muscles and organs - in fact, these dysfunctions may be found throughout the body.

As you can imagine, the tiniest alteration of the skull's natural shape and movement in infants might contribute to disorders such as colic, poor feeding, posseting, fractiousness and difficulty in settling. Compression of the head, back and diaphragm/chest whilst a baby is in the womb can eventually lead to children experiencing headaches, growing pains, tendencies towards recurrent ear nose and throat infections and digestive disorders

Osteopathy focuses on reducing restrictions, releasing strains and encouraging movement within the cranium or within the body framework.

Osteopathy for Children

Birth is one of the most stressful processes that our bodies go through. The head is compressed greatly during birth. The bones of the skull are very soft and mobile at this stage and are designed naturally to bend or overlap, thus accommodating to being squeezed through the birth canal. A long or difficult birth with intervention takes even more toll on the baby's head.

Although many babies have oddly shaped or bruised heads, usually the head rights itself after birth - this 'unmoulding' process is helped by breathing, sucking, crying, yawning and a 'memory' held within the bones of 'where they should be'. A prolonged birth, a ventouse or forceps delivery and foetal distress can all affect this 'unmoulding' process.

Sometimes these stresses are not fully resolved - babies may cry for hours on end, be difficult to put down or sleep fitfully. Many of the usual childhood ailments can be traced back to unresolved intrauterine or birth strains. Some patterns within the body show up as the child grows older, resulting in symptoms of asthma, glue ear, chronic ear or chest infections; even behavioural problems, hyperactivity, dyslexic and dyspraxic tendencies may have some roots in these unresolved problems.

After taking a case history, finding out about the birth and performing a gentle structural examination, treatment is given by applying specific gentle release techniques on the head, torso, pelvis or limbs to encourage the body to release strain patterns and return to a more balanced, more normal state. Gently releasing any tensions in a baby's body can often relieve discomfort that might otherwise be put down to colic or fretfulness.

Treatment by a Paediatric Osteopath

The cranial rhythmic impulse is a tiny movement, and palpable with very light touch. The osteopath uses specially trained palpatory skills to assess what forces have been imposed on the cranium and body from birth, childhood, illnesses, allergies or trauma.

The osteopath is aiming to understand how these forces may have caused subtle restrictions in movement and what the 'patterns of dysfunction' are for that person. By applying light, focussed pressure, treatment encourages the bones or compressed tissue to right itself and to function normally. As restrictions release, the osteopath can sense an improvement in how the cranium and body moves and works harmoniously.

Some parents bring their newborns 'just for a check up', others because they have been recommended by their health visitor, GP, NCT or friends. Parents consult paediatric osteopaths when they want to consider alternatives to repeated courses of antibiotics, to try to avoid grommets or if children aren't coping with school for various reasons. Some children seen by osteopaths have long term problems like cerebral palsy, autism, speech disorders or Down syndrome; here, osteopaths are trying to help these children be as well as possible and function to their fullest ability with whatever health issues they have.

Thus we may see an infant or child for 3 - 6 sessions to resolve a short-term problem or on an ongoing basis, depending on what that child needs.

This approach may be particularly useful for treating babies and children with:

  • Wind, tummy pains and sleep difficulties
  • Bouts of prolonged or inconsolable crying not due to any pathology
  • Fractious, irritable babies
  • Unsettled babies / children who frequently wake and do not seem to get into a deep sleep.
  • Babies who need to be rocked to sleep and often wake when they are put down
  • Feeding difficulties & Teething problems
  • Earache, 'glue ear'.
  • Sinus problems, asthma, recurrent chest infections
  • Behavioural problems, learning difficulties, hyperactivity, problems sitting still and concentrating, dyslexic and dyspraxic tendencies
  • Headaches
  • Sports related injuries, 'growing pains' and musculoskeletal problems

Osteopathy during Pregnancy

Pregnancy is a time when many women are more aware of their body. For many women, pregnancy means having to cope with a whole range of symptoms from low back pain and morning sickness to indigestion.

Some of these symptoms are caused by the changes that are taking place in the ligaments and muscles as the baby grows and as hormonal changes occur.

As the baby grows, the mother's weight increases and her centre of gravity changes. This results in many women suffering from low back pain.

Similarly, as breast weight increases, a woman's upper back may also be cause for complaint. Osteopathic treatment during pregnancy can help the body adjust to these changes

During pregnancy, the ligaments become slightly looser. This may cause old problems to recur or may contribute towards new problems, especially low back pain.

The pressure of the baby on the diaphragm may cause heartburn. Both this and morning sickness may be helped by treating the soft tissues around the diaphragm to relax them.

Osteopathy may also be used to work on other problems during pregnancy such as headaches, constipation, etc.

The treatment of pregnant women forms part of osteopathic training. Treatment is gentle, including rhythmic mobilisation of joints, relaxation and stretching of muscles, soft tissue massage and subtle release techniques. Although this type of treatment is now frequently recommended for helping babies suffering from wind, sleep problems, recurrent colds and glue ear, we find that many mums who come for a post-natal check-up for their babies forget that they often also need their back and pelvic alignment checked. Many pregnant women and post partum mums still put up with pain that may be alleviated by treatment.

After delivery, ideally both mother and baby should return to the osteopath for a post-natal check-up as the birth process may also lead to problems for the mother - the most frequent being back pain - a gentle treatment soon after the birth can help the mothers body return to a state of balance more quickly.

Early treatment often helps to prevent imbalances from becoming chronic musculoskeletal problems.

Osteopathic treatment of pregnant and postpartum mothers, babies and children is a very gentle, safe method of easing problems

Many recent problems often resolve with 3 - 6 treatments, some chronic conditions do best with regular check-ups

Karen Carroll is an osteopath who specialises in paediatric and cranial osteopathy and is a Clinical Tutor and lecturer at the Osteopathic Centre for Children in Clerkenwell.