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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.  Osteopathy aims to release physical tension, promote body symmetry and encourage optimal physical function in the growing child.


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. 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.Osteopaths work closely with midwives, lactation consultants, dentists, doctors and paediatricians to discover the cause of breast feeding issues. Osteopaths are especially interested in jaw mechanics, i.e. how far the baby can open their mouth to achieve an adequate latch and their overall comfort on the breast.

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. 


Osteopathy for infants and children

Infants and children present to osteopaths for many different reasons. If you think osteopathic care may benefit your child, please call to speak with one of our osteopaths on 03 9687 3040, or book in for an initial consultation.

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.


Osteopaths Assess and Treat Strains within in the Face, Tongue, Jaw, Neck and Head to Support Babies who are Having Difficulty Breastfeeding

Osteopaths work closely with midwives, lactation consultants, dentists, doctors and paediatricians to discover the cause of breast feeding issues. Osteopaths are especially interested in jaw mechanics, i.e. how far the baby can open their mouth to achieve an adequate latch and their overall comfort on the breast.

Tension or discomfort in the babies upper neck or head may cause feeding to be uncomfortable for both mother and baby.

A baby may use their facial muscles too much and tongue not enough, resulting in maternal pain, inefficient milk transfer and later low milk supply. The the baby may be irritable due to hunger or swallowing too much air.

Often when a baby shows a preference for laying with their head only to one side, or only turning their head one way they find one breast more difficult to feed on compared to the other.

The osteopath will assess the baby's whole body- 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.


Osteopathic Treatment For Babies May Help Get Their Neck Moving Better

Some babies may have a preference to only look in one direction. This is called Congenital Muscular Torticollis. There are varying degrees of severity for this, with some newborns still able to turn their head fully to the other side but preferring not to, and others not able to look to the other side even with assistance. The condition is sometimes present at birth but may develop over the first three months. It can happen because the fetus has been engaged in an awkward position in the mother’s pelvis for a long time during the pregnancy, or because of a difficult birth such as a long labour, forceps or vacuum extraction.

The reason the neck is rotated is because of tension in the neck muscles, including the sterno-cleido-mastoid muscle (the SCM for short). It is the muscle that arises from just behind your ear and attaches to the middle upper part of your sternum. Some babies will have what’s called a “pseudo tumour” or little lump in this muscle. Most of these will spontaneously resolve but need to be monitored, if they persist they may need surgical intervention.

Flattening of the head in one area if a baby lies with its head in the same position for a long time- it can also happen in the womb, this is called Plagiocephaly. The bones of a newborn baby's head are thin and flexible so the head is soft and may change shape easily. A baby who can move their head freely is less likely to develop a flat spot on one area of the head after birth. 

Osteopathic treatment for these newborns involves helping to loosen the SCM muscle and improve range of movement in the neck. The upper back and ribs are also very important. The osteopath may also provide the parents some gentle stretching exercises to further enhance treatment outcomes.


Babies Who Have Difficult Births Because of Shoulder Dystocia May Benefit From Osteopathic Treatment

Shoulder dystocia is when the baby’s shoulders get stuck in the mother’s pelvis during the birth. It occurs in less than one percent of births. It is a very good reason to seek osteopathic treatment for your baby as their head and neck have usually been pulled into different positions to help free the shoulder during the birth. While some babies can end up with a fracture of their collar bone, the ones who do not have this can still have some irritation of the nerves which run into their arms and also the muscles through out their necks and shoulders.


Falls when Learning to Sit, Climb and Walk and May Create Muscle Strain

Around 6 months old when they’re first learning to sit, babies will frequently fall backwards or over to the side. Parents sometimes notice their baby develops a head turning preference after the fall, or a limp.

Older babies who are starting to cruise furniture or take their first steps also have falls that can sometimes create strain in their bodies. Parents may notice that their legs and feet my not be symmetrical when moving around after the fall.

Osteopaths are trained to assess and treat minor sprains and strains and provide rehabilitation advice where necessary.

If you child has had a serious fall or injury it is important to have them assessed at your local emergency centre or doctor before seeking osteopathic care.


Some Babies Don’t Crawl In The Normal Way

There are various abnormal crawls such as bottom shuffling, where the baby sits on their bottom and uses their feet to pull themselves around in a seated position. There is also crab crawling where the baby will not put weight on one of their knees but instead uses their foot on that side whilst crawling on the knee with the other side.

Bottom shuffling is common in babies who are encouraged to sit prior to creeping and crawling. These babies will often miss the stage of crawling and creeping, moving straight from bottom shuffling to walking.

Ideally, babies should progress through stages of creeping and crawling before sitting and walking. Moving around on the tummy provides significant sensory motor input- helping the baby understand where its body is in space. It also develops strength in the neck, back and trunk muscles to support beautiful posture when the baby learns to sit themselves (usually around 8 months). Because the babies hands are in front of the body during creeping and crawling, this developmental stage also is key in learning hand eye coronation and visual accommodation (shifting visual focus between near and far).

The Osteopath will ask about the positions your baby likes and dislikes, the time and way they learnt other motor milestones such as rolling. The osteopath can identify and treat areas of physical strain, plus prescribe exercises and positions to allow your baby to learn different ways to move their body and get around.


Osteopaths Can Assess and Treat Physical Strain in the Irritable Baby

All babies should be under the care of their maternal child health nurse, GP and paediatrcian where necessary.

When you take your child to the osteopath, they ask about your baby's sleep, how they feed, how often they have wet and soiled nappies, if the are breathing without congestion, and the pattern of their symptoms of irritability (i.e., over tired, after feeding, certain time of day). The osteopath may refer you to another healthcare professional.

The osteopath will perform a thorough examination to identify and treat physical strain that may be causing physical discomfort in the irritable baby. Often the osteopath will educate parents on ways to hold and position their baby to support balanced posture and offer comfort.

 Physical Strain, Such as Muscle Tension and Joint Restrictions are Often Associated with Asthma and Recurrent Respiratory Infections

Osteopaths are interested in tissue health of muscles and rib cage movement. Tissue congestion (bogginess and inflammation) is often identified in the muscles of the rib cage, particularly in infants and children who have asthma or recurrent respiratory infections.

The main muscles involved in breathing include the diaphragm, external intercostal and scalene muscles, but others help. Accessory muscles assist breathing when there is an increased work of breathing (such as in respiratory illness, during exercise, or taking a deep breath), these muscles include the sternocleidomastoid, pectoralis major and minor, serratus anterior, latissimus dorsi, and serratus posterior superior.  Osteopaths are interested in supporting the function and tissue health of primary respiratory muscles, and to ease tension and chronic overuse of the accessory respiratory muscles.

One of the most important functions of ribs and diaphragm is the change in volume of thorax that helps inspiration and expiration. Areas of the rib cage move differently during breathing. The upper ribs lift and lower mostly at the front, and this movement increases the dimension of the rib cage front to back. The lower ribs lift and lower mostly at the sides, increasing the width of the rib cage. Osteopaths are trained to identify and treat areas of rib cage restriction, to improve chest mechanics during breathing.


In-toeing (turning in of feet) / Out-toeing (turning out of feet) is Caused by a Change in Position of the Foot, Lower Leg or Thigh

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.

In-toeing can be result from a change in position of one or more body areas-  metatarsus adductus (foot turned inwards), internal tibial torsion (lower leg rotation), or internal femoral torsion (thigh rotation).

Osteopaths are trained to assess and identify the cause of in-toeing and provide treatment to mobilise and balance the pelvis, lower limbs and feet. Exercises are often prescribed to support treatment.


Growing Pains may be the Result of Muscle Strain and Fatigue

Physical growth can place strain on the tissues of the body, including muscles and bones.

The osteopath assesses for areas of strain, and uses techniques such as massage to improve flexibility and promote blood flow to muscles and connective tissues surrounding the bones.  Home exercises may be prescribed to complement treatment and ease symptoms.


Osteopaths Can Assess Treat Minor Strains and Sprains Resulting from Injury In Older Children

Children are BUSY, and constantly adapting to changes in their growing body.  Everyday they are learning new skills, and in the process often injure themselves.

Osteopaths are trained to assess and treat most minor sprains and strains and provide rehabilitation advice where necessary.

If you child has had a serious fall or injury it is important to have them assessed at your local emergency centre or doctor before seeking osteopathic care.


Headaches are common in children and adolescents, and can be caused my many things

Common causes of headaches in children include muscular tension, colds, stress, dehydration, lack of sleep or eye problems (e.g. straining to read). Most headaches in children are not due to a serious underlying problem, but they can be upsetting for the child and have an impact on schooling, sport and play activities.

Headaches can be thought of as primary headaches and secondary headaches.

Tension headache is a type of primary headache. Tension headaches feel like a tight band around the head, a dull, steady ache felt on both sides of the head, but may be felt at the front and back of the head. These headaches are due to muscle tension in the neck, base of the skull and/or face and respond well to osteopathic treatment.

Secondary headaches are due to an identifiable underlying cause, commonly a mild illness (e.g. a viral infection) or dehydration.

If your child's headaches are severe and persistent, and cause them to miss school or activities more often than once a month, they should be checked by their GP.

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.

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