Cranial Osteopathy 

What is it?

Cranial osteopathy is a specialist form of osteopathy, favoured by osteopaths who feel most comfortable working with gentle, subtle techniques. An American osteopath, William Garner Sutherland, developed the technique in the 1930’s.

Sutherland believed that the cranial bones (the skull bones encasing the brain) weren’t fused in adulthood, as was widely thought, but actually had a cycle of slight involuntary movement. He suggested that this movement was influenced by the rhythmic flow of cerebrospinal fluid (the nourishing and protective fluid that circulates through the spinal canal and brain) and could become blocked. He developed refined and subtle techniques using very gentle manipulative pressure to encourage the release of stresses and strains in the cranium and throughout the body.

What’s it used for?

Cranial osteopathy can be a part of any osteopathic treatment and is often used for sinus problems, headaches and head injuries. It’s particularly effective for treating children, and even babies, with problems such as glue ear, colic, sleeplessness, or birth trauma, and this treatment is sometimes termed ‘paediatric osteopathy’.

Cranial techniques shouldn’t be used for patients with raised intracranial pressure.
Cranio-sacral therapy

American osteopath, John E. Upledger, and fellow researchers at Michigan University, developed Sutherland’s cranial osteopathy techniques into a new therapy called Cranio-sacral therapy in the 1970s. This therapy focuses on the whole cranio-sacral system, that is, the bones, nerves, fluids, membranes and connective tissues of the cranium and spine and sacrum (tail bone).

The technique uses very light pressure to evaluate ease of motion and rhythm within the cranio-sacral system and to balance it. It is thought that this process can activate the body’s natural corrective healing mechanisms. Patients report feeling deeply relaxed during treatment.

The Upledger Institute trains practitioners worldwide. The technique is generally considered safe, but not all therapists have a background in osteopathy, anatomy or physiology.

This article was last medically reviewed by Dr Stephen Hopwood in April 2009.