What is cranial osteopathy and what are the benefits?

Picture of cranial osteopaths

Defining cranial osteopathy

We can start to define cranial osteopathy by looking into the origins of the words ‘cranial’ and ‘osteopathy’. Time for a quick lesson in etymology! ‘Cranial’, as you might know, comes from the Latin word for skull – ‘cranium’. However, the origin of the word ‘osteopathy’ might appear as more of a mystery. The word is the combination of the Greek words ‘osteon’ and ‘patheia’, which together translates as ‘disease of the bones’. Therefore, we can conclude that the term ‘cranial osteopathy’ has something to do with treatment of the human skull. Interesting, but not particularly helpful – let’s get a little more specific.

Cranial osteopathy is a form of osteopathic treatment that uses very gentle pressure to release stress throughout the body. While this type of osteopathy is most commonly used to treat the head, it can also involve other parts of the body such as the spine and the tailbone. Cranial osteopaths specialise in a medical practice called palpation, which is a (quite literally) hands on technique for checking the body for disease and illness. As a result, cranial osteopaths need to have a master sense of touch.

How does cranial osteopathy work?

Cranial osteopaths are able to feel the subtle movements in our tissues that we cannot control. These movements were first discovered by Dr William G Sutherland in 1929. He referred to them as the Primary Respiratory Mechanism, although today they are more commonly known as the cranial rhythm. The cranial rhythm is measured as tiny expansions and contractions of the tissue structures in your head and body, almost as if your cranial and central nervous systems are breathing. While you would have never noticed it, these movements can occur between eight and 14 times a minute, and reflect the strength of your body’s self healing mechanism.

However, our cranial rhythm can be negatively affected by the various stresses and illnesses that we as humans all experience at some point throughout our lives. This can affect the flexibility of the muscles, ligaments and joints in your body – making you more vulnerable to further stress and injury in the future. Cranial osteopaths, therefore, use touch to detect whether a person’s cranial rhythm is at a healthy level, and will then treat the affected areas. Due to the subtle nature of these movements, cranial osteopaths will often have to go through years of training before they are able to feel these tiny pulsations consistently.

Benefits of cranial osteopathy for adults

The human body is remarkable in its ability to self heal. Osteopaths work on the basis that if there are physical imbalances and strains in the body, it cannot heal itself effectively. Cranial osteopaths can help to activate the body’s ability to self heal by gently massaging the areas of the body where the cranial rhythm has been affected. Cranial osteopathy can be used to treat head and facial pain, stress, fatigue and overall ill health. Osteopaths will start off by listening to a patient’s symptoms and will then investigate the places in the person’s body that might be linked to these symptoms.

By assessing the patient’s cranial rhythm in these areas, an osteopath can judge how well the patient’s body is working. They will then carefully massage the affected areas to restore the cranial rhythm to a normal level and improve blood circulation in the body. A further benefit of cranial osteopathy is that it can be deeply relaxing! The release of pent up tension and stress in the head and body can be a very enjoyable experience and can often lead to patients falling asleep while being treated.

Benefits of cranial osteopathy for babies

The delicate nature of cranial osteopathy means that it is commonly used to treat newborn babies. During childbirth, a baby’s skull can be subject to tension and stress, especially if the baby was born through an assisted delivery or had a particularly fast birth. This can disrupt the new born baby’s cranial rhythm in the skull, and can lead to the baby experiencing discomfort for the next few weeks following their birth. This can often explain why a baby is constantly crying or is having difficulty feeding.

Cranial osteopathy can help to detect and resolve this discomfort by soothing the areas where the cranial rhythm has been interrupted. It has been found to help babies sleep, reduce colic (excessive crying) and increase their levels of comfort. There is no minimum age for the treatment; in fact, the earlier a baby is treated, the easier it is to resolve the strains in the baby’s skull. Therefore, if you are a parent (or a soon to be parent) of a newborn baby, bear this is mind as a possible solution to treating the various discomforts your baby may experience throughout the initial stages of their life.


Hopefully this article has been able to clearly explain cranial osteopathy and its benefits, without all the confusing medical jargon that often comes along with it. With Qured, you can book an appointment with one our osteopaths in London, who will come to your home to provide you with the treatment you need. If you want to experience the benefits of osteopathy, book an appointment through our website or the Qured app today.