What is Cranial Osteopathy?
“Have you ever had a thought strike you? .… I became impressed with the idea that this suture was a display of a design for motion. The occipital squama was so similar to the gills of a fish that the next thought was all too logical. It struck me like a flash of inspiration that this design for motion also had to represent a function. Thus I came to the conclusion that this function necessarily had to be a respiratory mechanism.” W. G. Sutherland
Osteopathy in the Cranial Field refers to the system of diagnosis and treatment first described by William Garner. Sutherland (1873-1954). Sutherland was a student of A.T. Still who took to heart the notion that the concepts of Osteopathy were meant to be explored and developed. Initially he was skeptical of his own observations of movement in the cranium and only after many years of research did he begin teaching and writing about his approach to the movements in the cranial system. He never professed to have developed a new idea. He simply felt he was applying the teaching of his mentor, A.T. Still, to his study and palpatory experience of the cranium and cerebrospinal fluid. In approaching any patient as a whole, as is done in classical or traditional Osteopathy, the cranial system, including the movement of the cranial bones and membranes and the vitality of the cerebrospinal fluid is a part of the treatment.
Sutherland recognized a palpable movement throughout the body, which could be recognized as a rhythmic movement of both expansion and contraction or inhalation and exhalation. This palpable rhythmic movement is not synchronous with thoracic respiration or cardiovascular movement and when asked what the source of the movement was Sutherland responded that he did not know. Using this rhythmic movement, which can be felt from anywhere in the body, in diagnosis and treatment, allows for deep changes to occur which affect people on many levels.
Osteopathy in the cranial field is not a set of techniques nor is it only treatment of the cranial bones. While it originated with Sutherland’s observation of the movement of cranial bones, it has evolved to be a comprehensive and advanced approach to diagnosis and treatment of the whole body.
Cranio-sacral therapy, developed by John Upledger is not the same as the Cranial work done by Osteopathic Physicians. Cranio-sacral therapists are trained in a simple technique based protocol through workshops that last about 4 days each. Anyone can attend these workshops and begin practicing after four days of training. For an Osteopathic Physician, the training involved to treat using Osteopathy in the Cranial Field includes many years and many hours of courses to begin to glimpse the powerful effects of this subtle and profound approach.