Osteopathy For Babies & Children. Paediatric osteopathy has a great deal to offer parents searching for a natural medical solution to many childhood problems. Conditions that can be relieved include crying, screaming, irritability, feeding difficulties, colic, and vomiting in babies; and ear infections, other infections, sinus problems, behavioural problems, learning difficulties, headaches and other pains, and asthma in older children.

In virtually every condition a mechanical component contributes, either as a cause or a consequence, to physical and physiological dysfunction. Osteopathy is the science of discovering these factors and the art of manually assisting the body in adjusting to them.

WHAT IS PAEDIATRIC OSTEOPATHY AND HOW DOES IT WORK?

Paediatric osteopathy is based on the principle that all ailments – whether minor or serious – are a result of an imbalance somewhere in the network of the body’s systems.

After making a diagnosis, following a full medical history and examination, a paediatric osteopath will use refined and subtle manual techniques to bring about profound changes within the child’s body.

Some of the techniques used include: gentle releasing techniques; joint articulation and manipulation; cranial, functional and visceral techniques; muscle stretching; rhythmic joint movements; soft-tissue massage; trigger-point therapy; and lymphatic drainage.

This will allow the musculoskeletal system, the gastrointestinal tract, the nervous system, the immune system and the circulatory system to work effectively and optimally. The treatment uses no drugs, and is non-invasive.

Let’s take a look at an example. Imagine your child is diagnosed with a chest infection. The surrounding anatomy plays a role in respiratory function, and altered respiratory mechanics can contribute to tissue congestion and decreased clearance. It can also lead to altered ventilation, increased energy expenditure, and altered lymphatic and circulatory function.

Osteopathic reduction of facial connective tissue tensions and correction of alignment and motion of the joints will allow normal physiological function of the underlying anatomy.

Important note: Every child is unique and each child has a different birth history, medical history and clinical findings which will lead a paediatric osteopath to make a clinical diagnosis. Diagnosis is vital prior to treatment. Every physical therapist must have a clear understanding of the problem before commencing treatment.

Paediatric osteopathic treatment does not prescribe a particular technique for a particular condition, as occurs to some extent in conventional medicine where specific medication is prescribed for each condition. This is because any given diagnosis may involve various mechanical restrictions, leading to a similar diagnosis but warranting different techniques in each case. For example, a behavioural problem may be due to completely different restrictions in similar-aged children, and therefore warrant different treatment in each individual.

THE EFFECT OF BIRTH ON A BABY

Despite the common belief that children are young and flexible enough to have no musculoskeletal imbalances in their body, this is not necessarily true. The reality of this can only be ascertained on professional analysis of the birth history and on clinical observation and examination.

Childbirth is one of the most stressful events in our lives. The baby is subjected to enormous forces, as the womb (uterus) pushes to expel the baby against the natural resistance of the birth canal. The baby has to turn and twist as it squeezes through the bony pelvis, on its short but highly stimulating and potentially stressful journey. The soft bones at the top of the skull (cranial vault) overlap each other like the petals of a rose bud to reduce the size of the head as the baby descends. The baby’s chin is normally well tucked down towards its chest to reduce the presenting diameter of the head. The back of the head (occiput) will take up most of the strain if there is a delay in delivery.

The baby’s head and in particular the strong membranes (dura) surrounding the brain and spinal cord have the ability to absorb these stresses in delivery. Many babies are born with odd-shaped heads as a result. In the first few days, the head can usually be seen to gradually lose the extreme moulded shape, as the baby suckles, cries and yawns.

However, this unmoulding process is often incomplete, especially if the birth has been difficult. There are many reasons why labour may be difficult for mother and baby. Abnormal presentations and assisted deliveries involving forceps, manual traction or ventouse (vacuum extraction) can create strains, which are not easy for the body to resolve. As a result the baby may have to live with some very uncomfortable stresses in its head and body. This physical discomfort will cause most babies to be unhappy and unsettled sooner or later, although some babies manage well following a difficult birth and are content.

OSTEOPATHY FOR BABIES

The small amount of movement that exists in the infant skull permits the baby’s head to adapt to the forces of labour. However, when birth is complicated by being unduly slow or fast, or when other complications occur (such as the need for forceps delivery), the infant head may not recover fully from the distortion. This may result in subtle changes in function, leading to problems such as feeding difficulties, colic and disturbed sleeping patterns.

The gentle, skilful application of osteopathic treatment by an osteopath experienced in treating babies can often bring about a significant improvement in these distressing cases and is increasingly being considered as a treatment of choice for some conditions caused by difficult or traumatic birth.

Crying, Screaming And Irritability

Frequent crying, restlessness, fractiousness, startling at loud noises and taking a long time to settle to sleep may be attributed to retained birth compression. The baby’s head may be uncomfortable, possibly with a headache. These babies are characteristically more relaxed being carried than lying down as the extra pressure of the mattress on the head aggravates the tension already in the head.

Babies who have a complicated birth such as having the umbilical cord wrapped around their neck or who have been jammed in the birth canal are often anxious babies, while those who have had a very rapid delivery are often irritable.

Paediatric osteopathy has been helpful in treating many babies with birth compression.

Colic And Wind

Mechanical stresses during delivery and pregnancy can aggravate or cause colic. Other factors that need to be considered are the mother’s diet, lactose intolerance, stress during pregnancy and a family history of colic.

The nerve to the stomach (vagus nerve) exits at the base of the skull and can therefore be irritated by birth compression. This retained compression on the nerve can reduce digestive efficiency and therefore impair digestive function.

Stress through the trunk of the baby as it passes through the birth canal, or from a poor first breath, or shock from the birth will increase torsion and/or tension within the diaphragm. Impairment of the diaphragm will compromise the ability of the stomach to hold on to and digest its contents.

Tension through the umbilical cord during delivery due to it being entwined around the baby’s neck can be spread to the diaphragm and gastrointestinal fascia. Thus the position and function of these areas can be disturbed.

Stress in the pregnant mother is also considered to increase the likelihood of colic in the infant by making the baby’s nervous system more reactive.

A paediatric osteopath will be able to work on the restrictions within the baby’s body and effectively reduce the signs and symptoms of infantile colic.

Sleep Disturbances

A young baby who does not suckle sufficient milk at one feed will tend to waken sooner for the next feed. Discomfort inside the baby’s head and coverings of the brain (the meninges) may be passed on to the brain itself, causing the baby to be in a continually alert state. So due to retained compression, indirect irritation of the nervous system may prevent the baby from being able to sleep deeply. Later on in the first year the infant may be awakened by the slightest noise and this can develop into a sleeping pattern. Osteopathic treatment of the retained birth compression should be sufficient to resolve the sleep disturbances.

Infections, accidents, teething and knocks to the head may disrupt sleep patterns. Osteopathic treatment is capable of reducing the effects of any such incidents by helping the body back to health.

OSTEOPATHY FOR OLDER CHILDREN

As children grow older problems may surface as a result of earlier strains or as a result of trauma such as knocks on the head or falls. Recurrent infection in the nose and ears (glue ear) may be due in part to restrictions in the small yet important movements between the various bones of the growing skull.

Many osteopaths experienced in this field also consider that mechanical stresses on the body can be an important factor in cases of developmental delay such as delayed speech, educational difficulties, and problems with co-ordination and physical development that have no particular medical diagnosis. Such children often make better progress once osteopathic treatment has been started.

Problems In Teenagers

As young people grow, the body frame undergoes a number of changes. Osteopaths can help the body framework to adjust to the postural demands made on it. This may simply be due to lack of adaption to a slightly exaggerated spinal curve or to mechanical changes that occur in conditions such as osteochondritis. If these minor problems are left undiagnosed and untreated, they may lead to problems later in life.

By analysing, treating and managing problems associated with growth, osteopaths can make an important contribution to ensuring that young people become, and stay, fit and healthy.

To add to this, teenagers often take part in many sporting and recreational activities that carry the risk of sprains and strains. Skilful diagnosis and treatment by the osteopath can prevent problems from developing and allow the body’s framework to heal naturally and adjust to the stresses and strains.

CONCLUSION

Babies and children have an innate drive towards normal function, and often need only the slightest easing of tension to release the mechanical stress suffered and to improve function. Paediatric osteopathy offers the natural recognised solution to your child’s health

NATURAL MEDICINE magazine,