In our previous article (see Cranial Osteopathy) we discussed what cranial osteopathy is. This article looks to build on this by exploring what exactly is the cranial rhythm.
Starting at the beginning, all of our cells are continuously breathing, i.e. taking in oxygen and releasing carbon dioxide. This breathing, in a similar fashion to the expanding of our lungs, causes our cells to undergo a shape change (as the influx of oxygen into a cell will cause the volume to alter). If we use assume all the cells are doing this at the same time then not only will it create a body wide rhythm but also the rhythm will be enhanced. This enhancement allows the trained osteopath to feel it and we term it the cranial rhythm. It is a subtle rhythm and not visible (like our lung breathing). Therefore to feel it, we must use a light touch as a strong touch will inhibit the cellular shape change.
The cells in our body are located everywhere, in our connective tissue, our nerves system and even in our bones (i.e. via our bone marrow). So, this rhythm can be felt throughout the body by lightly placing our hands on any part of your body.
In addition to the cranial rhythm, there is another rhythm of note termed the fluid rhythm. In our bodies we have a number of different fluids moving around;
1- the flow of blood in our arteries and veins,
2- the movement of fluid into and out of our cells,
3- fluid motion within our digestive and nervous system,
4- the flow of lymphatic fluid
The fluid moves in waves or pulses and therefore the net sum of this fluid movement creates a pulsating rhythm. This rhythm is very different to the cranial rhythm yet can be felt via the same approach, i.e. light pressure on certain body parts. Where there is greater fluid (i.e. near the heart) the sensation will be stronger.
By feeling thousands of cranial and fluid rhythms the osteopath is able to determine a basic shape and rate change for each rhythm. This gives the osteopath an understanding for what is ‘normal’.
In the event of injury, the cells locally are irritated or damaged. As a result their ability to exchange oxygen/ carbon dioxide and fluid alters. Therefore so does the rhythm. By comparing the rhythms between different aspects of the body and what is perceived as a ‘normal’, we are able to identify which is the abnormal rhythm and therefore where to work.
How do we treat
Here the concept differs to more commonly used techniques. When using soft tissue or joint movement techniques, our intention is to force the joint back into the correct range of movement or stretch a muscle into a length we (as the osteopath) perceive to be correct. When using a cranial approach we are simply looking to help correct the rhythm and thereafter relying on your body to sort its self out. Essentially, we are supporting the bodies endeavour to return back to normal whilst when using stronger techniques (e.g.. muscle stretching) we are telling the body what to do.