Avin Patel

Cranial Osteopathy and Celebrity Parents

Cranial osteopathy for babies is no stranger to celebrities. Kate Lawler of Virgin Radio is one of the latest to seek treatment for her newborn.

What is cranial osteopathy?

Cranial osteopathy involves gentle treatment of the head and neck. Adults can be treated cranially too, but as babies’ skull bones are not solidly fused, they may be more receptive to treatment. Techniques are gentle, and focus on minute movements of the skull and neck joints.

Your osteopath may also want to work more locally on problem areas. Like with adults, sometimes a baby might have a tight muscle that’s causing discomfort. Direct, gentle stretching might be the quickest way to make progress.

Cranial osteopathy for babies

Why do people do it?

Birth is inherently traumatic to babies, and can leave them with areas of tension. Even babies who had relatively easy births can have problems like torticollis, where the neck is tight on one side. This might be subtle, but can still make feeding difficult, or lead to a flat spot on the head due to continued pressure on one side. Young babies can only communicate by crying, so sometimes an unsettled baby might actually be a baby with tension. Subtle aches and pains might interfere with sleep without leaving many other clues.

Other celebrity parents to recently seek cranial treatment for their babies include Pippa Middleton and Cara De La Hoyde. Their babies’ colic and general fussiness were the reasons for pursuing treatment.

What should I expect from cranial treatment?

During the first session, your osteopath will take a full case history, asking you about baby’s current health and anything relevant from pregnancy or birth. They may then ask you to undress baby so they can examine them. This might involve moving joints and feeling how baby moves on their own. Other times the osteopath may be more focused on the head and neck alone. Treatment itself is not much of a spectator support. Subtle movements in the head and neck are performed while baby is in a relatively comfortable position. Periodically, your osteopath may reassess the problem areas to monitor how treatment is going.

Your osteopath may also treat other areas of the body directly. Sometimes babies hold tension in the diaphragm, which can be associated with digestive issues like reflux. It can also limit how deeply they can breathe, and encourage further tightness in the neck and shoulders. Treating the diaphragm directly is sometimes the quicker way to get results, or treating in conjunction with work on the neck can help. The nerves that supply the diaphragm leave the spinal cord in the neck, so the two areas together can be useful.

What qualifications should my osteopath have?

All osteopaths must be registered with the GOsC. This means that they have completed a recognised qualification, which might be a DO, BSc, or M.Ost.

Cranial osteopathy can be learnt in a post-graduate course. Some courses are specifically focused on treating babies and children, whereas others are more general. Depending on the course, your osteopath may have additional letters after their name, or they might just have their osteopathy qualification.

You can book your baby in for cranial osteopathy here.

Knee Problems

The knee is more than just the big hinge joint: it is made of three joints and a lot of connective tissue. Problems with one part often lead to symptoms in another, so your osteopath will look at the area as a whole at your appointment.

The Knee Cap (Patella)

The knee cap sits within the quadriceps tendon and slides up and down the front of the main knee joint. Its presence makes knee movements much more efficient, so when it becomes symptomatic it can be quite debilitating.

Because of how it sits in the tendon, it is subject to forces from the quadriceps. Something as simple as tight muscles on the front of the thigh can put pressure on the joint between the patella and the rest of the knee. This might cause a feeling of tension or friction. If there is an underlying problem, or this persists, it can lead to cartilage injury or osteoarthritis.

Sometimes the quaricep muscles are unbalanced. Often this means the one on the inside of the thigh (vastus medialis) is relatively weak. When the muscle group contracts, force is not equally placed on the knee cap, and it is encouraged off-centre. This can cause similar problems to those listed above, along with a feeling of instability or clicking.

Your osteopath can help with tight or weak muscles, and work with a suffering joint to give it a better chance at healing itself.

Knee anatomy

The ITB (Iliotibial Band)

The ITB is a broad piece of tissue that runs down the outside of the thigh and attaches to the side of the knee. It is not very stretchy or contractile, and is controlled by a muscle on the outside of the hip (TFL). The role of the ITB is to stabilise the knee. When it feels tight, it’s usually the TFL pulling on it to try and support the knee.

Runners are often quite aware of the ITB, and may have been advised to foam roll it. This is controversial, as studies show mixed results about whether the band even responds to direct pressure. It makes more sense that the TFL muscle would respond more to rolling, but we need to think about why it’s overworking in the first place. There may be a problem developing in the joint that the body is trying to limit and protect. We will assess the whole knee complex at your appointment to get to the bottom of your symptoms. The sooner we can address this the better, as tightness in the ITB is associated with bursitis and snapping hip syndrome.

Ligaments and Cartilage

Inside the main hinge joint, there is a lot of cartilage to help support and stabilise the joint. The ACL and PCL ligaments are also present for stability. A hinge joint under as much pressure as the knee is vulnerable to injuries caused by slipping. This is exactly what the PCL and ACL are there to prevent.

Beyond the usual cartilage at the ends of the bones that make up the main joint, there are also two C-shaped pieces. These are called the menisci, and they provide cushioning as well as improving the connection between the bones. The menisci can be injured by twisting through the knee while weightbearing, making it a common sports injury. Cartilage is slow to heal, but we can help to support the joint and maximise nutrient flow to the area. Injuries like this can also affect the way you move generally, so we will look to the rest of the body and ensure nothing is overworking to compensate.

Start addressing your knee problems today: click here for an appointment in Leicestershire.

Hormones and Pain

Pain is complicated, and what we feel is dependent on countless factors, including hormones. We’ve spoken before about how lifestyle factors, as well as psychology and medication can affect chronic pain.

Hormones can be linked to pain

Thyroid Hormones and Pain

Hyperthyroidism, where the body produces too much thyroid hormone, and hypothyroidism, where it doesn’t produce enough, are quite common conditions. Symptoms of either can be quite vague, so may be mistaken for something else. Although there are a lot of causes for these conditions, levels can be easily checked with a blood test.

Beyond the sometimes painful symptoms of hyperthyroidism, thyroid hormones appear to have an effect on pain processing. The exact relationship is unknown, but it seems that higher levels of the hormone are linked to pain from hot or cold stimuli.

The NHS website notes that hypothyroidism is associated with a sensitivity to cold. It also mentions pins and needles and carpal tunnel syndrome. Hyperthyroidism can cause a sensitivity to heat.

There may also be a link between thyroid problems and incidence of fibromyalgia. Fibromyalgia still remains largely unexplained, so to find associations with factors like hormone levels could be promising.

Oestrogen and Testosterone

One study noted links between fibromyalgia and oestrogen changes in the menstrual cycle. The same study reported generally higher rates of pain with higher levels of oestrogen. This included artificial oestrogen, such as the combined contraceptive pill. HRT is another form of artificial hormone, and may be associated with an increase in jaw joint pain.

The same paper looked at the effects of testosterone. It showed that male mice recovered from sciatica quicker and more completely than the females. In human studies, the authors noted that women appear to suffer less neck and shoulder pain associated with desk work if their testosterone levels are higher. Both men and women also seemed less likely to have rheumatoid arthritis if their testosterone levels are high.

We need to bear in mind that it won’t be hormones alone that are responsible for these differences. The paper recognised that they are “thought to be one of the main mechanisms explaining sex differences in pain perception”, but other factors such including psychosocial ones will be at play.

Menopause

With the knowledge that oestrogen has an effect on pain, it is not surprising that the menopause is associated with changes in pain sensitivity. Some women find that their headaches dissipate once they go through the menopause, whereas others might develop a migraine for the first time.

Another paper looked specifically at lower back pain and the menopause. Again, it recognised that pain is multifactorial, and that we need to consider biology, psychology, and social factors.

Stress perceptions, tension, anxiety, depression, and difficulty concentrating—increase throughout the transition, and have been found to be associated with an increase in back pain.

We need to recognise that the menopause is associated with increased pain for a number of reasons.

In a slightly different vein, pain may be higher post-menopause because injury is more likely. As oestrogen levels drop, so does collagen. Collagen’s role is to create strong, somewhat elastic tissue, such as cartilage. Less collagen is linked to higher levels of joint pain and cartilage degeneration. This is the process that also underpins osteoarthritis. Lower oestrogen is also a factor in the development of osteoporosis, which increases the likelihood of fractures.

Click here to make an appointment in Leicestershire.

Fourth Trimester Aches and Pains

The fourth trimester is a baby’s first three months of life. During this period, both the baby and parents undergo huge changes, developmentally, emotionally, and physically. The demands are high and the learning curve is steep. We talk about sports injuries happening when you suddenly increase your exercise, or start a new one suddenly. The first few months with a newborn require just that: new activities and lots of them.

Post-Partum Recovery

After the relatively quick changes of pregnancy come the even quicker adjustments to post-partum. In some cases, this means sudden resolution of pain. In other cases it means the opposite. Either way, the centre of gravity changes with birth, so the posture of pregnancy needs to change immediately. Aches and pains may come and go, but your osteopath can help if they don’t resolve on their own.

After a caesarean, you should be advised on management of your scar, including hygiene and mobilisation techniques. Follow the advice for the rest period and reduced lifting- this is major abdominal surgery. Research now leans away from the notion that a “weak” core leads to lower back pain, even after surgery.

Feeding Baby in the Fourth Trimester

Bottle and breastfeeding require awkward positions, sometimes for long periods. This can be especially true overnight, when the struggle to stay awake while feeding compounds the issue. If your body is working well, you can maintain almost any position for a short while without discomfort: movement is the key. This is easier said than done if you’ve finally got the perfect latch and don’t want to move baby (or if they’ve fallen asleep mid-feed), but there are changes you can make to your own posture without affecting theirs.

Try and set yourself up in a relatively symmetrical position before feeding. This won’t be perfect, as feeding is not a symmetrical activity. If you need one elbow bent- particularly if it is supporting baby’s weight, make sure you have something to support it. Try not to spend the whole feed looking down at baby and make sure you’re not putting too much strain through your wrists. The image below shows a position that is likely to become uncomfortable quickly, but it could be perfectly effective for a short while.

Fourth trimester: feeding a newborn

If you’re breastfeeding, you may prefer to try other positions. Side lying in bed can give your neck and arms a rest, and you might even be able to roll away if baby falls asleep mid-feed.

Carrying Baby and their Apparatus

During the fourth trimester, babies rarely want to be away from their parents. Even putting them down for naps can be impossible, so to get anything done you might try a carrier. There are both soft and structured carriers available, and it may be a case of trying a few to determine which suits you and your baby.

Not forgetting that it’s not always the baby themselves who is the problem! Car seats can be heavy and ungainly, and manoeuvring a pushchair into a car is not always as easy as you’d expect. Safe lifting typically involves lifting “within your base”, meaning you want to keep the item you’re lifting as close to your body as possible. Leaning forwards to lift something puts more strain on the muscles than lifting something up from between your feet.

Car seats for the youngest babies are often too bulky to hold within your base while allowing your legs space to move. Baby car seats often have a little handle on the side for this reason. Loop your arm through the main handle, and hold onto the smaller one on the side. Keep your arm close to your side to distribute the weight more centrally, and to leave space for you to walk.

Make an appointment in Leicestershire for a Fourth Trimester check up.