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Soft Tissue, Detoxification and Cranio-Sacral Approaches to Arthritis and Ageing

by Jonathan Lawrence(more info)

listed in craniosacral therapy, originally published in issue 217 - October 2014

Wear and tear in the joints is known by the alarming names of osteoarthritis, or in the spine, spondylitis. These are conditions, which are present in all adults, especially in later life. Many people have this problem without being aware of it. In severe cases pain and disability can result. This is most obvious in the hips and knees, where replacement surgery can restore mobility and reduce pain and in the back. What is not generally recognized, however, is that bones and joints have the ability to repair and regenerate to some extent. Bones have two types of cell that control the density and shape of the tissue. Osteoblasts form bone and osteoclasts remove bone mineral constantly working to regenerate and remodel the bone and joints.

Arthritis of hand
Arthritis of the hand

One of the causes of osteoarthritis is when local tissues are subject to trauma. This may be major trauma, which results from an accident or micro-trauma, which can be caused by repetitive movements, or poor posture. This causes inflammation, which in turn creates scar tissue. Scar tissue may reduce the blood supply to the joints. As blood takes nutrients to the joints and removes waste products and toxins, the ability to self-heal diminishes. Over a long period of time, often many years, arthritis sets in.

It stands to reason therefore if you can increase the local blood supply and stimulate the joints, the arthritic process reduces and in some cases a degree of regeneration occurs. In addition attention to the lymphatic drainage, which removes extracellular waste products is also a key to optimising healing.These toxins in the tissues not only contribute to arthritic change but also ageing of the organism. Toxins also can be produced as a result of medication and dental treatment too.

External toxins from pollution can also affect us. In this day and age, there are many chemical exposures that are new to our human metabolism. These may range from agrochemicals to flame retardants in our furniture and chemical treatments in our homes. What happens to these toxins? Well some the body can eliminate other accumulate in our connective tissues and fat, some may accumulate in the extracellular fluid preventing our cells from being nourished effectively.

All this can result in symptoms ranging from fatigue to skin complaints to allergies and more serious illness. Toxins may be self-inflicted from eating and drinking, the wrong kind of things, from smoking or recreational drugs. We have found Nutritional therapies and Homeopathy to be extremely helpful in the treatment of these degenerative conditions alongside soft tissue manipulations.

Advanced Soft tissue techniques consisting of identification and treatments of trigger points around the offending joints by the therapist, and neuromuscular technique, a form of local deep massage can reduce pain and disability significantly. Lymph drainage techniques will help by draining local toxins from the area and simple positional release techniques can deal with inherent tensions caused by tissue memory causing local tension.

  • Trigger point therapy releases myofascial knots in the soft tissues having a benefit in the structural organisation of myofascial chains, benefitting whole areas including individual limbs and areas of the body such as the cervical spine;
  • Neuromuscular technique stimulates the pain reflex, reinvigorating the local blood and lymph supply that in many cases had given up!
  • Positional release techniques allow the body to let go of tissue memory which often involves emotional release too!
  • Perhaps the main factor to consider is the lymphatic system. The lymph system drains the extracellular fluids, cleans them in lymph nodes, an important part of the immune system, before returning the fluids to the blood system from where noxious substances can be eliminated.

Lymph drainage head
Lymph drainage of the head

Lymph may become stagnant often as a result of tissue congestion. Because of the structure of lymph vessels and their valves only allowing fluid to pass in the direction of elimination, soft tissue techniques are most valuable. In massage, effleurage is a widely taught technique, but osteopaths have been using ‘lymph pumps’ to great effect for over a century.

Passive stretching and releasing of the joints allows a powerful pump to be engaged which effectively propels lymph through the valve lined lymph vessels to the venous system. We have developed a sequence of pumps, which effectively move lymph efficiently and quickly into the blood system. These work on key point in the body such as the sub-occiput (where the neck meets the skull), the thoracic inlet where the major lymph vessels pass into the venous system, the diaphragm and the pelvic floor.

These techniques help to drain the whole body, and may be taught to be used safely and efficiently in a one day course.  Once the principles are learned they can be applied to smaller joints too for a more local effect. In addition some very simple craniosacral techniques can help to drain the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF), which surrounds and nourishes the central nervous system.

After a session of lymph pump drainage, patients often feel energized. A series of treatments can not only make the patient feel better but can put them in touch with true wellness, something many people have forgotten. Improved lymph drainage and detoxification can also make you look good too. After all health is beauty.

One of the very first patients I treated 30 years ago was a hockey player in his late forties who lent me his knee to practice on. At that stage x rays had shown that the joint surfaces were worn and uneven, there was the characteristic creaking sound when the joint was moved and there was extensive pain on the ligaments around the knee.

Treatment as outlined above reduced the pain and allowed him to continue playing his beloved hockey for a few more years. I met up with him again last year, many years after we had moved to the West Country. He had continued having regular treatment and although the arthritis had worsened he hadn’t needed a replacement knee as would have been expected from the initial findings.

A frail elderly lady in her 90s consulted me 6 years ago with extensive wear in her shoulder joints and neck. She had done a heroic amount of physical work in the past. Using the combination of treatments outlined above on a monthly basis her range of movement in the joints has improved significantly, and her pain has diminished.

Prevention however is better than cure. In our culture we do not recognize that a problem exists until we get symptoms appearing.

Arthritis takes many years to develop, so it would make sense for patients to have regular check ups, or seek an opinion after an accident, a period of heavy work or a whiplash.

Further Reading

Modern Neuromuscular Techniques by Leon Chaitow Churchill Livingstone. ISBN 0 443 05298 0. 1996.

Positional Release Techniques by Leon Chaitow. Churchill Livingstone. ISBN 0443 05299 9. 1996.

Further Information

Turning Point Training runs courses in the Advanced Soft Tissue Techniques as described above, Tel: 01769 579079 or 


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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;  

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