In children it is often the poor sleep, appetite, mood or bowel-function which is a sign for the attentive parent that the child may have a restriction, strain or be out of alignment. Children may develop structural problems from a variety of causes, including:
• a difficult birth or in-utero position
• childhood accidents and falls
• infections or inflammations
• genetic disorders
The calm and soothing approach of osteopathy, including osteopathy in the cranial field, makes it especially suitable for treating children, including newborn infants. Poor alignment, mobility and functioning in children can lead to a wide range of problems which may gain relief from osteopathy. Examples include:
• postural — e.g. scoliosis, headache, growing pains
• respiratory — e.g. asthma
• manifestations of brain injury — e.g. cerebral palsy and spasticity
• developmental — with delayed learning or physical progress perhaps triggering speech delay or behaviour difficulties.
• infections — e.g. recurrent ear, throat and sinus infections or urinary infections.
Osteopathic treatment for infants and children is very gentle, safe and effective. Depending on the problem, and what restrictions, moulding or stresses are found, the osteopath will work on their head, spine, pelvis, limbs, abdomen or chest. The techniques of osteopathy in the cranial field are used on the head, and similar very gentle techniques are used elsewhere on the body. Specific gentle pressure is applied where necessary to enable the inherent healing ability of the body to affect the release of the stresses and restrictions.
It is a common belief that babies and children should have no structural strains in their bodies, because they are “so young”. The reality is very different.
The birth of the baby is one of the most stressful events of their lives. The baby is subjected to enormous forces as the uterus pushes to expel the baby, against the natural resistance of the birth canal. The baby has to turn and twist as it squeezes through the bony pelvis on its short but highly stimulating and potentially stressful journey.
The baby’s head has the remarkable ability to absorb the stresses of a normal delivery. In order to reduce the size of the head the soft bones overlap, bend and warp as the baby descends. The baby’s chin is normally well tucked down towards its chest to reduce the presenting diameter of the head.
Many babies are born with odd shaped heads as a result. In the first few days, the head can usually be seen to gradually lose the extreme moulded shape as the baby suckles, cries and yawns. However, this unfolding process is often incomplete, especially if the birth has been difficult. As a result, the baby may have to live with some very uncomfortable stresses with in its head and body.
Some babies cope extremely well with quite severe retained moulding and compression and are contented and happy. For others, it is a different story and they can display a variety of problems:
• crying, irritable baby – crying, fractious baby, needs to be rocked to sleep. Prefers to be carried. Baby may be uncomfortable with a constant feeling of pressure on the head when lying down.
• feeding difficulties — baby is a “windy” feeder or takes a long time to feed. Feeding is difficult and tiring due to mechanical stresses through the head, face and throat. The nerves to the tongue may be irritated as they exit from the skull, which makes suckling difficult.
• spilling, colic and wind — regurgitation of milk between feeds, bouts of prolonged crying due to colic and wind. Often worse in the evening. The nerve to the stomach is irritated as it exits from the base of the skull which impairs digestion. The diaphragm may be tight, which further compromises both digestion and the ability of the stomach to retain its contents.
• sleep disturbances — baby sleeps for only short periods especially in the day, and wakes to the slightest noise. Tension on the bony and membranous casing of the skull keeps the babies nervous system in a persistently alert state.
Reactions to treatment are variable. Often the baby or child is very relaxed afterwards and sleeps well. Others have a burst of energy after treatment, which is usually followed by a good night’s sleep. Occasionally the baby is unsettled after treatment. This is a temporary situation and is usually caused when the release of the retained moulding has been incomplete. It is not always possible for all the retained moulding compression to release in one session, especially if it has been severe.
How many treatments? On average, three to five treatments are sufficient. This varies according to the severity of the problem.
When to treat? Obviously, the younger the better – on day 1 or 2 is great! But many parents bring their new born within the first few weeks, after the mother has had time to recover. It is never too early to treat. For issues with head shape, treatment should be before the age of five years. After this the stresses and asymmetries can often not be completely eliminated, but it is still possible to achieve beneficial release of the stresses throughout life.