A lightbulb moment during his training led Chris Harris to recognise the power of osteopathy for babies and small children – especially those who have experienced a difficult birth. Coining the term ‘Osteodontics’, Harris has become a specialist in treating the whole body using a ‘synthesis of Cranial Osteopathy and Orthopaedic dentistry’ – treating the structure of the skull in a holistic way. Speaking to one of his patients (and converts) Jess Clark, he talks us through the mysterious world of Cranial Osteopathy…

What is Cranial Osteopathy?
Cranial Osteopathy is a technique that allows Osteopaths to treat structures anywhere in the body, including the skull and its contents. A century ago, Dr. Sutherland came up with the concept after spotting that the bones of the skull were obviously designed to move slightly.

What we call the Cranial Mechanism seems to be a rhythmic, subtle motion of not just these bones in the head but also all the tissues of the body. It feels to our hands like a small, slow breathing motion. When we work gently with this it allows the body to release stresses and strains, and better health to be returned.

This can be on a gross level: a painful muscle spasm in the low back can be relieved. Also it allows us to be very subtle. Here’s an example: an infant is born after a long and difficult delivery. The child is cyanosed (very blue) when they come out and slightly floppy. The survival mechanisms kick in and after a few minutes they are a good colour and moving normally. All the medical checks are done and passed over the next days; however, the baby is very difficult to settle and a fussy feeder. Weight gain is not dangerously low but suboptimal.

What I frequently find when I treat a child like this is a palpable sense of shock in the central nervous system. The interruption in the oxygen supply during the birth process has left its mark. Not enough to cause obvious damage but enough to really need some work to normalise. A handful of treatments usually settles things well and the child starts to thrive and develop normally.

And why is it controversial?
Well it isn’t to people who are used to it. In fact it rapidly becomes obvious common sense: reduce stresses and strains, and the body restores its own natural equilibriums. However how the work is carried out can seem unusual. The practitioner often sits with their hands under the patient’s head or pelvis for many minutes at a time, apparently doing very little. This is just part of the stillness required to palpate very subtle movements. Also controversial is the range and sometimes seriousness of ailments that seem to respond to the work.

How can CO be used to treat babies and children, and is it any different to treating adults?

The classic work with babies is mechanical effects from the birth process. Rotational strains around the upper neck and compressive strains in the lower half of the infant skull are very common. For various anatomical reasons this can lead to colic, sleeplessness, a poor latch, sticky eyes, a squint, and constipation… the list goes on. Two to four treatments started as soon as possible will usually set things right if issues are not severe.

The difference between adults and the very young is little in principle: you just choose the appropriate technique for the patient. In practical terms, babies and children are more important to sort out for the following reason. A small amount of work goes a long, long way. People who do this work know that correcting strong issues in a young life can completely change how the individual grows, develops and expresses his or her personality. In a very good way. Adults, on the other hand, don’t usually pee and poo while you are treating them, and say “thank you”. Which is nice.

CO is often a suggested treatment for ‘colicky’ babies; why is this?
Because it usually works very well. A senior colleague of mine conducted one of the few controlled scientific studies as to the effectiveness of osteopathic treatment for infantile colic; which was confirmed. Google the name ‘Clive Hayden’ colic for the report.

What – if any – are the signs of a traumatic birth that might be treated with CO
Anyone in the know knows that every new baby should have a check-up treatment with an experienced practitioner. So should mum too by the way. More obvious signs are poor feeding, plagiocephaly (funny shaped head), irritability, digestive issues, and a strong preference to look to one side or nurse from one breast, poor weight gain. And of course the history of the birth itself. All births involve a challenge what with the size of the infant head and the maternal pelvis. An ill advised cascade of intervention, a frightened mother and an instrumental delivery after an epidural are all factors that frequently make things worse.

How do you work with children when they find it difficult to express their symptoms?
You have to have your charm batteries charged, and listen hard to what they and the parent says.  Most importantly you have to listen to the tissues. The body will often let you know things that are not verbalised, by child or adult.

I know from personal experience that CO can help regulate mood swings and hormonal imbalances – what other sorts of ailments is CO particularly useful in treating?
If I start trying to list all the things I have come across it will sound very presumptuous. It’s not that the work will fix almost anything, it’s that almost anything can respond well to the work, i.e. put the body in balance and it will take care of itself better.  Lists are however great prompts and memory joggers. Thinking of your readership, here goes some issues that in my experience frequently respond well: period pain and PMS, headaches (including migraines), back pain and neck pain, grinding of teeth and jaw pain. Symptoms of stress such as anxiety and panic attacks… Digestive problems such as IBS and constipation… Recurrent illnesses such as tonsillitis or bronchitis; that’s a start anyway!

What would you say to the sceptics?
Find an experienced practitioner and try three treatments. Don’t worry too much about how it works. I still don’t know and that’s after 21 years! The proof is in the results: if you’ve had a car crash and then six months later neck, back or headache problems emerge, try it. If you’ve had a baby and can’t seem to get your strength and energy back, try it. If you’ve had a bad concussion and a year later you still can’t quite think as clearly as you used to and energy is low then try it. If difficulties at work are sufficient to affect sleep, appetite or mood then try it. If periods are painful and PMS is a strong feature then try it, too. If your baby had a tricky birth, was colicky and then went on to experience frequent ear infections, has a terrible temper, and is now busy thumping their new little friends in the first year of school you really really need to try it. And what’s more you’ll wish you did it years ago.


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