|Child & Infant Therapy|
The craniosacral system is a very delicate mechanism. The gentle rhythmic fluctuation of cerebrospinal fluid around the brain, through the ventricles and down the spinal cord – what could be termed the breathing of the nervous system – can be easily disrupted by membranous and bony restrictions. This is especially true of newborns. At birth, the cranium is still largely cartilage and many bones such as the frontal, occipital, sphenoid and temporals are in two or more pieces. The alignment of the bony plates is maintained by the dural membranes to which they are all firmly attached.
During its passage through the birth canal, the baby’s head undergoes tremendous pressures as it moulds to conform to the shape of the mother’s pelvis. It can often become stuck along the way due to faulty presentation of the head or the baby’s head catching on a bony prominence of the mother’s pelvis or sacrum.
After the baby is born, under normal circumstances, the activities of crying and sucking mobilize the dural membranes to realign the cranial bones. This is how the baby loses its conehead! Often however the realignment is incomplete due to the severity of the birth trauma and the baby is left with cranial restrictions which may result in physiological dysfunction. Clinically, we sometimes see overlapping of the frontal and parietal plates though this is rare. More common is compression of various parts of the cranial base. One such scenario occurs when the condylar portion of the occiput remains compressed against the petrous ridge of the temporal bone thereby compressing the ipsilateral jugular foramen and its contents, namely the jugular vein and Cranial Nerves IX,X, and XI. Irritation of the vagus nerve (X) will upset the parasympthetic supply to the viscera, often resulting in colic, the most common affliction of newborns. Medial compression of the occipital condyles is common during the birth process, either due to natural factors or the use of forceps. This results in a narrowing of the foramen magnum which can lead to irritation of the brain stem and lesions of the atlanto-occipital joint.
These dysfunctions can be addressed very effectively with Craniosacral Therapy. In colic, the key is to promote decompression of the affected jugular foramen by releasing the restriction between the occiput and temporal bones on the compressed side. Usually just one or two treatments are sufficient because, in babies, dysfunctional patterns are not entrenched as they often are in adults and the tissues’ memory of inherent Health is much stronger. Other conditions that respond well to craniosacral work include: developmental delays, learning disabilities, ADD, hyperactivity, recurrent otitis media, repeated vomiting, weak sucking response, “failure to thrive”, asthma, dyslexia and autism. A medical doctor who learned Craniosacral Therapy at the Upledger Institute performed CST on all newborn infants at the hospital where he was on staff in Maine. He did this over a period of five-plus years. All infants were treated at least once before they left the hospital to go home. During the first year of life he found that the incidence of illness requiring hospitalization for the CST-treated infants was less than half the incidence for infants born at a neighbouring hospital where they did not receive CST.
It is not easy to perform CST on moving subjects, so working on infants and small children comes with its unique challenges. I am invariably grateful when an infant arrives or ends up asleep on my table. Of course fussy babies settle down when they are being nursed so treating the infant while it is being held and fed by its mother is another option. Nonetheless, one learns eventually to feel a body’s subtle physiological movements underneath the voluntary movements it is making. I usually begin the evaluation and treatment with an occipital-sacral hold. This allows me to assess the quality of the craniosacral rhythm through the synchronous movements of the occiput and sacrum. Because these bones are the two ends of the dural tube the therapist, using the same hand contact, can release the spinal dura and any torsions in the spine and pelvis. Anterior-posterior holds can be used to release any tensions in the viscera, diaphragm or thoracic inlet. Key areas to evaluate and treat in the upper body are the SCM muscle, the clavicles, C1 and the cranial bones and sutures, with particular attention to the cranial base and the relationships between the occiput, sphenoid and temporal bones. I invariably feel privileged to work on infants and children because of the intimate connection one is able to make with these wise beings. It is obvious that at some level they can sense things shifting and changing within their bodies and they respond (usually through their eyes) with a mixture of curiosity, wonder, emotion, contentedness, and recognition.
It is worth mentioning that Craniosacral Therapy is also wonderfully benefical for the mother during pregnancy, delivery and post partum. CST has been shown to be an effective modality for relief of back pain, pressure build-up in the abdomen and pelvis, pregnancy-induced Bell’s Palsy, post-partum blues and for natural induction of labour.