How does osteopathy for babies and children work?
Osteopathic treatment for babies and children at Growing Bones uses no more pressure than would be used when holding or dressing a baby, and is delivered with the aim of keeping the baby comfortable and calm throughout. A wide range of common childhood conditions present to our osteopaths, however, osteopathic care is not just for ‘sick’ babies and children. Osteopathy aims to promote body symmetry in the growing child and general well-being.
What does the osteopath actually do?
The osteopath’s role in the care of children is to remove physical tension from the body, which may contribute to an array of different symptoms that commonly present in infancy and childhood. Osteopathic treatment aims to facilitate healthy function in all areas of newly born and growing bodies by freeing up muscles and joints, improving blood flow and maintaining body symmetry for balanced growth.
With babies and children, the osteopath only needs to use a very light touch and gentle movement. The osteopath may sit with their hands gently holding the baby’s head or pelvis for several minutes at a time using only very subtle movements. At other times, the baby may be held or positioned in specific ways to gently bring about balance in the body. The osteopath uses no more pressure that is typically used when holding or dressing a baby.
What is ‘cranial osteopathy’ and how does it help babies?
Cranial osteopathy for babies form of osteopathic care that involves the osteopath cradling the baby’s head, base of the spine, or any other part of the body in order to gently feel, and release any imbalances. The treatment is extremely subtle and aims to improve fluid dynamics in body areas. This type of treatment is almost imperceptible to the observer.
Osteopaths at Growing Bones use a combination of general osteopathy and cranial osteopathy for babies, which includes includes subtle cradling of the baby’s head and body, plus massage, and body positioning. This technique uses no more pressure than typically used when holding or dressing a baby.
General osteopathy and cranial osteopathy for babies aims to foster healthy body alignment and alleviate any mechanical stress from birth or positioning in utero.
Being born can be a physically taxing process for some babies... especially if there were delivery difficulties, medical complications, or a long, drawn out labour. However, the way a baby has been positioned inside the womb before birth may also result in body strain and imbalance -- even if birth was relatively easy.
A wide range of conditions in babies and children present to osteopaths:
It’s important to note that and very little research has been done in the field of osteopathy for babies and children- for multiple reasons. Firstly because the osteopathic profession does not have the resources to conduct research on a large scale. However, osteopathic treatment is commonly provided to babies and children. Osteopathic care does not claim to cure any of the conditions listed below, the osteopath’s role is to remove physical tension in the body that may be associated with common childhood conditions. Our principal osteopath completed a two year post-graduate diploma in paediatric osteopathy, studied further in oro-facial myology (correct use of the lips, tongue and establishing nasal breathing for healthy facial development and dentition) and is trained in the INPP method (assessment and movement therapy for neuro-motor immaturity). All Growing Bones osteopaths who treat babies, toddlers and children work with this knowledge base.
There is an emerging body of research demonstrating the usefulness of osteopathic treatment, and we hope to contribute to this in the future.
Please visit Osteopathy Australia's Research and Evidence Page for more references supporting osteopathic care for babies and children.
Conditions that commonly present to our osteopaths at Growing Bones include:
Note: Osteopathic treatment at Growing Bones uses no more pressure than would be used when holding or dressing a baby, and is delivered with the aim of keeping the baby comfortable and calm throughout.
- Head shape concerns / torticolis- The bones of a newborn baby's head are thin and flexible so the head is soft and may change shape easily. Flattening of the head in one area may happen in the womb, or if a baby lies with its head in the same position for a long time (Royal Children's Hospital, 2010 (c)). The osteopath will complete a full physical assessment of the baby, uses specific body positioning during the treatment, and prescribes take home exercises to improve neck flexibility and reduce preference for lying with the head turned to one side.
- Postural imbalance- This can involve any part of the body where there is asymmetry- preference to turn the head left or right, preference to side bend the whole body left or right, using one leg or arm differently than the other... etc. The osteopath will complete a full physical assessment of the baby, uses specific body positioning during the treatment, and prescribes take home exercises.
- Unsettledness - Can be due to multiple factors. The osteopaths role is to identify and release any areas of physical tension or strain that may contribute to physical discomfort and subsequent unsettledness.
- Reflux / colic - Again, can be due to multiple factors and osteopathic care does not claim to cure these conditions. The osteopaths role is to to identify and release any areas of physical tension or strain through the upper neck, jaw, rib cage and soft tissues of the abdomen that may be associated with reflux and colic.
- Feeding difficulties and/or pre-post tongue / lip tie release - The osteopath looks at whole body posture- but specifically the position and movement of the upper neck and jaw, and the use of the cheeks, lips and tongue. The osteopath may wear a glove and massage inside the baby's mouth, use specific body positioning during the treatment, and prescribe take home exercises. All treatment is delivered with the aim of keeping the baby comfortable and calm throughout.
- Constipation - Can be due to multiple factors. The osteopaths role is to identify and release any areas of physical tension or strain through the hips and lower abdomen that may contribute to tissue congestion and constipation. Take home exercises may also be prescribed.
- Recurrent respiratory infections - Bronchiolitis is a common chest infection in young children, caused by a viral infection of the lungs. It usually occurs in babies under six months, but sometimes up to 12 months of age (Royal Children's Hospital, 2010 (a)). Although osteopathy does not claim to treat the acute symptoms of bronchiolitis, our osteopaths commonly see babies and children who suffer recurrent episodes of bronchiolitis, severe enough to be admitted to hospital. We find that these babies and children often display tissue congestion and restricted rib cage movement, which may predispose to decreased fluid dynamic recurrent infections. Our osteopaths work with specific body positioning and massage, using no more pressure than would be used when holding or dressing a baby. Treatment does not guarantee that babies and children will not continue to get bronchiolitis, osteopathy aims to improve chest mechanics so recurrent episodes may be less severe, while encouraging a faster recovery.
Toddlers & older children:
- Delayed gross motor milestones / Asymmetrical crawling or walking patterns - All children develop at different rates. Delayed or asymmetrical creeping, crawling or delayed walking are common concerns in otherwise healthy children. The osteopaths role is to understand the child's primitive and postural reflex profile, and identify and release any areas of physical tension or strain that may make it difficult for a child to learn a specific motor skill. Take home exercises may also be prescribed.
- Asthma - Asthma is a common condition caused by narrowing of the small air passages (breathing tubes/bronchi) in the lungs. The narrowing happens because the air passages become swollen and inflamed, making it harder for air to get through and causes wheezing, coughing and problems with breathing (Royal Children's Hospital, n.d). Postural compensations are common in children with moderate to severe asthma and include head protraction (forward head carriage), elevation and protraction of the shoulder girdle (high and rounded shoulders), decreased chest wall expansion and muscle shortening of the arms, posterior trunk and posterior lower limb (Lopes et. al., 2007). Osteopathic care does not claim to cure or treat the acute symptoms of asthma, the osteopath’s role is to to identify and release physical tension in the body that may be associated with symptomatic asthma, including muscle tension or strain through the rib cage, thoracic spine, accessory respiratory muscles, upper neck and jaw. Take home postural and nasal breathing exercises may also be prescribed.
- In-toeing (turning in of feet) / Out-toeing (turning out of feet) - In-toeing is when the feet turn inwards when walking. It is common in childhood and is usually outgrown. It may be a good idea to see your osteopath if: in-toeing only affects one leg; in-toeing is severe and not improving with time; in-toeing is causing tripping and affects participation in activities; feet are stiff, or painful and not improving with time (Royal Children's Hospital, 2010 (b)). The osteopaths role is to identify what is causing the in-toeing- metatarsus adductus (foot turned inwards), internal tibial torsion (lower leg rotation), or internal femoral torsion (thigh rotation), and release any areas of compensation, physical tension or strain through the pelvis and lower limbs.
- ‘Growing pains’ - It is thought that growing pains are the result of muscle strain and fatigue, linked with the bone and muscle changes that occur with growth. The osteopath uses massage and stretching techniques to improve flexibility and promote blood flow to body areas affected, which may help ease symptoms. Home exercises may also be prescribed.
- Tummy pain - Can be due to multiple factors, therefore osteopathy alone does not claim to cure tummy pain in children. The osteopaths role is understand the factors potentially contributing to tummy pain (diet, medical history, family history etc.) and to identify and release any areas of physical tension or strain through abdomen that may be associated with various types of tummy pain. Referral to a dietician or nutritionist for diet modification may be recommended in some cases.
- Physical injuries
- Behavioural concerns / Learning difficulties - Please note, osteopathy does not treat behavioural concerns and learning difficulties, however INPP movement therapy may be beneficial for some children. See INPP Individualised Learning Support Programs.
What to expect from your baby’s or child’s osteopathic session at Growing Bones.
At Growing Bones, we like to make your child’s visit to the osteopath a pleasant experience. The osteopath can treat your baby whilst they are feeding or sleeping. Toddlers can sit and play with toys. There is no need for children to lie still on their backs when receiving treatment, although it can be nice if they are willing! In fact, your child’s natural behaviour, movement and posture during play can help to inform the osteopath what areas of the body are functioning well, and what areas may need a little bit of help.
Need more information about how osteopathic treatment may help babies and children?
If you have any questions please call us on 03 9687 3040, or make an appointment using our secure online booking tool.
Osteopathy for babies: references and relevant studies…
Guiney PA, Chou R, Vianna A, Lovenheim J. (2005). Effects of Osteopathic Manipulative Treatment on Pediatric Patients With Asthma: A Randomized Controlled Trial. The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association, 105, 7-12.
Hayden C & Mullinger B. (2006). A preliminary assessment of the impact of cranial osteopathy for the relief of infantile colic. Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice, 12(2):83-90
Lopes EA, Fanelli-Galvani A, Prisco CCV, Goncalves RC, Jacob CMA, Cabral ALB, . . . Carvalho CRF. (2007). Assessment of muscle shortening and static posture in children with persistent asthma. European Journal of Pediatrics,166(7), 715.
Mills MV, Henley CE, Barnes LLB, Carreiro JE, Degenhardt BF. (2003). The Use of Osteopathic Manipulative Treatment as Adjuvant Therapy in Children With Recurrent Acute Otitis Media. Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med, 157(9):861–866. doi:10.1001/archpedi.157.9.861
Royal Children's Hospital. (2010 (a)). Kids Health Info - Bronchiolitis. Retrieved 7 August 2017 from http://www.rch.org.au/kidsinfo/fact_sheets/Bronchiolitis/
Royal Children's Hospital. (2010 (b)). Orthopaedic fact sheet - Intoeing in children. Retrieved 9 August 2017 from http://www.rch.org.au/uploadedFiles/Main/Content/rheumatology/intoeing.pdf
Royal Children's Hospital. (2010 (c)). Kids Health Info - Plagiocephaly - misshapen head. Retrieved 16 August 2017 from http://www.rch.org.au/kidsinfo/fact_sheets/Plagiocephaly_misshapen_head/
Royal Children's Hospital.(n.d). Kids Health Info - Asthma. Retrieved 8 August 2017 from http://www.rch.org.au/kidsinfo/fact_sheets/Asthma/