Avin Patel

Colic (Prolonged Infant Crying)

Colic is a difficult thing to pin down: it’s not a formal diagnosis. A newborn may be described as “colicky” if they cry for a total of three hours (or more) per day, three days a week.


Causes of Colic

Possible causes of colic are generally considered to be digestive. Therefore there may be overlap with other digestive issues, such as reflux.

It makes sense that growing pains could also be a cause of prolonged crying, and no bones are under more dramatic change than the bones of the skull in the first six months. The brain grows tremendously in infancy, reaching 80% of its final size by the age of three. We’ve discussed plagiocephaly and the red flags for craniosynostosis before, which may have relevance here.

More Than Colic?

If these symptoms continue for more than four months, other potential causes need to be considered. Young babies have few ways to communicate distress other than crying, so it helps for us to keep an open mind when working with them. Be aware of:

  • infections, including persistent nappy rash
  • signs of meningitis
  • wind and constipation
  • unusual vomiting (green stained vomit or especially forceful vomiting)
  • symptoms of testicular torsion in boys

Can Osteopathy Help?

We’ve posted before about parents who found cranial osteopathy to really help their babies’ symptoms. Cranial osteopathy is a very gentle form of the therapy, using light pressure and soft movement to encourage movement through the skull. As babies’ skulls are not completely fused, they can respond very quickly to small changes.

You can read more about cranial osteopathy here.

With regards to potential digestive causes, an osteopath’s approach to a baby is not too dissimilar to an adult with digestive issues. Whenever the digestive system is upset, especially by reflux or other painful conditions, the diaphragm often reacts. This broad muscle runs right through the body, giving it the potential to affect breathing, the mid and lower back, or further aggravate the abdomen. The diaphragm is also reactive to stress, playing a big role in raising your shoulders and making your breathing shallow.

Gentle treatment to the diaphragm can help to reduce its negative effects and potentially improve breathing and symptoms of reflux. Young babies may take longer to respond when reflux is involved, as their immature digestive systems, liquid diets, and increased time spent lying down are all potential aggravating factors. However work to reduce symptoms and discomfort may lead to a reduction in crying.

Osteopathy for Parents or Carers

The newborn period can be tough, especially if your baby is colicky. The sudden changes in demand on your body, especially if you find that rocking your baby is the best way to soothe them, can take their toll. Osteopathy can help with those aches and pains and help to break the cycles of tension that make your neck and shoulders tighter.

Make an appointment in Rutland or Leicestershire here

Referred Pain

Sometimes pain is felt somewhere different to the area that’s caused it. We see this a lot with upper back stiffness causing the lower back to overwork and become painful. But referred pain is different: here the brain misinterprets the pain signal that it receives.

referred pain

Understanding the Pain Signal

The body is full of nerves that can send a pain signal to the brain to alert it to potential danger. Everyone is slightly different, but we all follow a similar pattern of nerves. Each nerve supplies a stripe of the body with sensation.

Pain at any point in the stripe will trigger the nerve to send a signal to the brain. The brain knows which nerve is providing the message, but sometimes it misinterprets the detail. The misinterpretation is just like how some people have a heart attack without chest pain, just jaw or arm pain. If a joint within a stripe is irritated, such as the neck joint labelled above, the brain could assume the pain is anywhere within the stripe. As a result, you may feel no neck pain at all, just pain in the arm. But the arm wouldn’t be tender, and movement might not alter symptoms either.

Another commonly affected area is the pelvic joint: the SIJ. This can cause pain in the back of the thigh that can be easily mistaken for sciatica. But unlike sciatica, the pain is unlikely to be sharp or shooting, and tests that identify sciatica will come up negative.

With the heart attack example in mind, we do need to be aware that sometimes referred pain comes from organs. Again, there are patterns that we expect the body to follow, but there is overlap between referred pain that could be coming from a joint, and the same symptoms coming from an organ. We use our detailed case history to help catch these cases, but we will also monitor your progress and refer you for further investigation if appropriate.

Diagnosing Referred Pain

Although everyone’s stripes vary slightly, they are all pretty similar. Your osteopath will be able to tell which nerve is responsible by the area in which you feel the pain. From here, they can work back to other structures within that nerve’s remit to identify the irritated area. Looking at the way you move, as well as testing the joints and muscles passively, we can work out the joint or other area that’s causing the problem.

Managing Referred Pain

Identifying the cause is the first step towards getting on top of the pain. Often, once the problem area is identified, the referred pain should respond quickly to treatment. Whereas sciatica-type issues can take days or weeks to respond to changes further up the nerve, referred pain is often much more immediate. If the cause of the pain is a simple irritated joint, sometimes a quick click will take the edge off the symptoms. A combination of the usual strategies to relax off tight muscles and improve movement in joints can make a big difference, especially when supported with advice and exercises.

In any case, your osteopath can give you an idea of a prognosis at the end of your first session. Your osteopath will also give you a tailored plan and diagnosis to structure your recovery.

Make an appointment in Rutland or Leicestershire here