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Craniosacral Therapy and the Face

by Jonathan Lawrence(more info)

listed in craniosacral therapy, originally published in issue 213 - April 2014

Craniosacral therapy developed from the work of osteopath, William Garner Sutherland, a pupil of Andrew Taylor Still, the father of osteopathy.

Underpinning Still’s philosophy of health was the idea that structure governs function. If the body’s structure is not right it will not function properly. He also believed that the body has all the necessary elements within it to restore health.

Sutherland’s insight came from observing a skull specimen, which he noted that the sutures, or skull joints appeared to be arranged in such a way as to allow movement. He discovered that not only do skull bones move but the underlying membranes, nerve tissue and fascia also exhibit this involuntary motion.

craniosacral therapy

This motion is expressed by a two-phase cycle, which can be known as inspiration /

expiration from Sutherland’s concept of this motion being the primary respiratory mechanism central to which is the rhythmical flow of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF).  This cycle is independent and slightly slower than the breathing rate at approximately 10 cycles per minute.

He further discovered that in line with Still’s principles that any structure whose motion is disturbed leads to dysfunction. These dysfunctions can be associated with symptoms such as head neck and back pain to organ and hormonal disturbances. Sutherland and his followers also developed techniques to correct these motion disturbances. These are mostly very gentle indirect techniques.

Motion disturbances can be caused by mechanical, chemical or psycho-emotional trauma, examples of which may be whiplash, meningitis or grief.

Imbalances in the craniosacral system can begin in the womb or through a difficult birth. During the birth process the cranial bones are compressed and moulded and the rest of the body twisted tensed and at times compressed. Although evolution has designed this process to be beneficial and stimulating, a rapid, long or assisted birth using forceps and ventouse can create patterns of dysfunction.

Craniosacral therapists are trained in anatomy and physiology so that they can determine through palpation what normal motion is and what is disturbed motion. They further need to know the nature of the structures affected and the physiological effects. When examining the Craniosacral system usually a number of motion disturbances are identified. The therapist then needs to determine if these disturbances can be reconciled as a pattern and whether that pattern is consistent with what is known about the client and her history.

The reason a pattern of disturbance arises is the primary trauma creates secondary ones as a result of compensation and adaptation. For example a blow on the back of the head as the result of the head striking the headrest in a car shunt may cause a tilting and rotation of the head on the neck. Counter rotation and tilting in the spine below may lead to a subsequent predisposition for strains in the low back.

Having identified the causative pattern, the therapist can gently realign the tissues restoring function and reducing pain and disability. This gentle approach can be used in all people of all ages including babies.

One area where Craniosacral Technique has am interesting role to play is with dental dysfunctions. Dental procedures such as root canals, extractions and braces can contribute to jaw dysfunction, which can reflect through the rest of the system. In my early years of practice I worked alongside an holistic dentist. We taught each other a great deal about the therapeutic complementarity of the two approaches.

I would like to illustrate this with reference to two patients (names changed) referred to me by the dentist.

Emma came to me with pain between the shoulder blades; she was 14 years old at the time. Donna consulted me with low back pain. She was in her late forties. Both had one thing in common; they were undergoing orthodontic treatment following tooth extractions and in both cases had fixed braces on their upper teeth.

Emma presented with a restricted craniosacral motion throughout the system but with no obvious motion disturbance at the site of the pain. I referred her to the dentist who loosened her brace and her pain resolved.

In Donna’s case, examination restriction of the articulations of the spine at the base seemed to be associated with alteration in posture, subsequently found to be coupled with tension in the maxillae caused by the braces. Her pain improved with Craniosacral treatment temporarily but did not resolve until the braces were removed.

Here is an interesting experiment you can perform now. Place your thumb and first finger of your right hand either side of you upper teeth. Rest your other hand lightly on the back of your neck.  Squeeze the teeth with you right hand creating medial compression on the bones the upper teeth are attached to, the maxillae. Note a contraction of the neck muscles in response to your pressure.

Braces and other dental and orthodontic treatment can stress the facial bones creating reactions in body tissues, resulting in mechanical disturbances leading to pain and discomfort. This can manifest as pains or aches in the face and head or even low back pain. These mechanical disturbances over a period of time create problems that do not resolve until the original disturbance is addressed by a Craniosacral therapist.

An example of such a mechanical disturbance would be when a maxilla is compressed upsetting the jaw joint and attached muscles which become tender to the touch. The adjacent temporal (ear) bone is disturbed, tensioning the dural membrane at the side of the brain which in turn is continuous with the membranes surrounding the spinal cord, creating a pull all the way to the base of the spine.

Other predisposing factors in the development of these disturbances include a poor bite upsetting the jaw joint, chronic ENT infections as a child, upsetting the bony and soft tissue relationships in the face, trauma to the face and neck as well as surgery.

Missing these causes in the development of pain may mean that the pain never resolves completely. The Craniosacral therapist can evaluate the condition of the bones not only in the cranium but the face too. As well as the maxillae the vomer, palatines other bones of the orbit and the mandible can be assessed for freedom of motion which the skilled therapist can restore when deficient.

Even some obscure symptoms can be associated with facial bone disturbance. Andy a 39 year old student who had problems sleeping since dental surgery 13 years previously responded to 2 treatments after which his sleep returned to normal. This may be explained by the mechanical connections from the roof of the mouth to the base of the brain, which illustrates the potential importance of being checked after dental trauma. A few dentists are now trained in Craniosacral techniques.

Strain patterns in the cranium and face caused by birth can also predispose to tensions that cause malocclusion and overcrowding of teeth. If detected early by the craniosacral therapist, these can be corrected without dental intervention.

For older children and adults with established imbalances, craniosacral therapy alongside dental intervention can ensure more beneficial outcomes for the patient.

References and Further Reading

Upledger, Vredevoogd. Craniosacral Therapy. Eastland Press. Seattle. ISBN 0-939616-01-7. 1983.

Sutherland WG. Teachings in the Science of Osteopathy. Rudra Press. Portland. ISBN 0-915801-26-4. 1990.

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About Jonathan Lawrence

Jonathan Lawrence BA DO Cert Ed, following 4 years teaching Environmental Science, trained at the European School of Osteopathy graduating in 1985. Jonathan has been practising Osteopathy in private practice for 25 years, treating patients of all ages – from babies to the elderly. Having lectured to audiences ranging from small technique classes to presenting at the 2008 Advancing Osteopathy Conference, he established Turning Point Training in order to bring high quality and affordable professional courses in Craniosacral and positional release techniques to practitioners trained in conventional or complementary medicine. He may be contacted on Tel: 01769 579004; info@turningpointtraining.org   www.turningpointtraining.org  

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