Dr. Wendy Neal, osteopath extraordinaire, talks us through the basic influences of cranial osteopathy:
-mobility of bones in the head
-mobility of sacrum
-movement of CerebroSpinal fluid
-movement of membranes around the brain
and how gentle and subtle support to these movements can help support and calm conditions from seizures to headaches to pain, sleep and even constipation.
What is cranial osteopathy and how can it help with headaches dysregulation focus and even?
Join me for this very informal conversation. osteopath. Dr. Wendy, you are listening to functional nutrition and learning for kids and I am your host.
I’m really happy, excited, and honored to welcome Dr. Wendy Neill to our podcast today. Dr. Neil is an osteopathic and naturopathic physician practicing at Qwest Center for Integrative Health right here in Portland, Oregon. She has been in practice for about 30 years. She emphasizes gentle low force approaches such as cranial osteopathy, biodynamics, myofascial release, visceral treatment, lymphatic treatment, and balanced release techniques.
Dr. Neal has served on the osteopathic cranial Academy board of directors and on several of their committees. She believes strongly in the body’s innate capacity to find its way towards health, and the role of Osteopathic treatment in helping it along this path. She works with people of all ages, but places a particular emphasis on the treatment of children and the benefits of Osteopathic treatment for neurological, musculoskeletal, many other types of issues that benefit from treatment early in life. Thank you, Dr. Randy. Thanks for joining us. I’m so happy you’re here.
Dr. Wendy Neal:
Thanks so much for asking me. I’m glad to be here.
Yeah. And I like the fact that you talked about neurological musculoskeletal because those are the issues that often accompany several children with neurodevelopmental disabilities, could you but before we get into that, could you give our listeners a brief introduction of a lay person’s view of what cranial osteopathy is?
Dr. Wendy Neal:
Sure. And I’m gonna, frame it in the general context of osteopathy and how we go through medical school from day one, we’re learning hands-on treatment, in addition to all the other things that doctors learn in medical school, and, and how to correlate this with how the body is actually functioning and what’s important in terms of their organs and muscles and everything.
We learn everything from what people think of as chiropractic techniques to really gentle kinds of techniques. And I would put things like a myofascial release. And a lot of these techniques that people didn’t necessarily realize came from us, you pass the myofascial release strain, counter strain muscle energy, I put them kind of in the middle because you’re actually using muscle function or tissue function. And working with that. And then at the, at the kind of really more subtle end, is what we talked about is cranial osteopathy, which really involves working with any part of the body working with the whole body.
It’s kind of a misnomer that way, but it’s working with innate forces in the body just sees inherent forces, it looks at some inherent mobility of the bones in the head, and how they can actually move or get stuck or jammed if you have a force or an impact. And the sacrum has to be able to freely move between the hip bones. And then the cerebral spinal fluid has to be able to freely move around the spine, the brain, and the spine, and the membranes around the spit, the brain has to be able to freely move and all of those work together.
You can feel their impact not only in the movement of the head but also all throughout the body. I can put my hand on somebody’s leg or somebody’s mid-back or anywhere and feel whether those inherent motions are moving and are nice and symmetrical from side to side and the body’s feeling their vitality that day.
Yeah, and I have experienced this firsthand, firsthand as I see you work with it. But one thing that I didn’t know that you just said was that cranial osteopathy the cranial is a misnomer. It can be for the whole body. I in my mind, I thought the cranial osteopathy was just the head and the rest of it was just osteopathy. So that’s not what
Dr. Wendy Neal:
people think. Okay, Sutherland actually discovered it on the head. He was Dr. Still developed the field of osteopathy in the late 1800s. And one of his original students was Dr. Sutherland, William Garner Sutherland. And he did some experiments on himself because he had these bad headaches. And he like lie on it with his head on a rope that was hanging from a tree and he fell asleep and then he woke up and he found out his headache was gone. And so he kept doing all these crazy things.
You would feel him, like his sacrum Really, sir, he would feel these things in different parts of his body. And so you started studying the bones and the impact on his own body and his wife would come and find him like almost passed out because he had put so much pressure in a certain area that that’s how he learned and so just really the way that he figured out that it impacts every part of the body has been amazing started
from the head but even figured out that yeah, the same techniques apply to all over the body. Exactly. And you’re talking about working with, you know, with with the bones everywhere, but I feel like I’m using the wrong word for bone. So please feel free to correct me as they call them plates.
What is it like the bones? Don’t Okay, so the general impression I had for a long time, and I still kind of partially have is that the movement stops or reduces with age as, as you know, perhaps bones are fusing together or moving closer together in infancy. And then this movement reduces with age. And generally, there is this unsaid notion out there that as you get older, this applies, and these techniques are less useful to you. Is that true? And I’ve been very important with my question, but you know what?
Dr. Wendy Neal:
I totally get what you’re saying. And I hear that? And that’s a really great question. So, as we grow older, there’s less fluid in the body. When we’re infants or even embryos, it’s like 90 percent fluid and as adults, and when we get really elderly, it’s less than 60%.
You know, there are different figures. But that said, and then when you look at a skull that’s dried out, or a body that’s dried out after death, the fluids all gone, right, that’s what we think of it’s like one few skulls, but actually, in human being even, even later in life, even though like in a baby, the, when a baby is born, most of the head is membrane and fluid. And there are these stress areas that develop as the brain gets bigger and bigger and grows, then it the head there are, the head gets stressed. And where the stress is, then bone and cartilage is laid down. And then eventually those grow and they meet and they form sutures between the different bones. And you can see the sutures on every different person varies depending on how that was laid down and the forces on them as they were developing.
In those areas, the sutures fuse, grow together, and by the time that we’re in our 20s, in most parts of our body, and the sacrum, so the same way, develops in like 30, some different parts, and then they all kind of fuse grow together, and articulator meets, eventually, and by the time we’re in our 20s, most of this is kind of laid into a pattern. But within those joints or those sutures between the bones, they still are discovering blood there are there is some connective tissue, and there is little there blood vessels that go through their things that go through, even within the small bones that meet in different parts of our head. And so that means that there’s some resiliency in there. And so even in the oldest elderly people, I see people right up to the end of life, and I have people in their 80s and 90s. And you can definitely still feel the motion in there and things can get jammed, but things can release.
It’s much easier in a newborn or a child to make a change because they don’t have years and years of different patterns laid down on top of each other. But you can still make changes at any age. And I see lots of people after any kind of trauma, like a car accident or you know, I see lots of kids after they fall off their bike or get hit by a soccer ball or something and lots of change place.
Thank you. Thanks for that. So that’s good to know that, you know that change happens at any age. And that kind of builds up to our next question where I was going to talk about how cranial osteopathy can be supportive for children with, you know, autism or Down syndrome. And that’s a broad question.
I’m going to narrow it down a little bit. But this is the age where there are so many manual therapies available. And you already kind of answered that question that myofascial release cranial sacral, a lot of the other even perhaps some chiropractic all of these are kind of built into the modality of osteopathy, right? Is that right? So when I meet with clients for nutritional consulting, I’m considering some sort of, you know, body-based therapy or, or manual therapy for lack of a better term to the kind of integrate all these modalities as a non-negotiable because you can do the nutrition part, you can support the body and then on the other hand, you have to do the learning part or what I call it, education, equal education, making sure that the child is getting an appropriate input. But there’s this middle part where the body has to be moving in some sort of unison and, and, you know, being regulated and I find that there’s nothing else that actually supports this particular area of regulation. So could you talk about what you’ve seen or what your understanding is with respect to cranial osteopathy?
How it helps with emotional or physical regulation, especially in children that are any diagnosis, we just see so much dysregulation going on.
Dr. Wendy Neal:
Sure. So, osteopathy is based on a few principles. Basically, we really believe in restoring health and balance and that the body has all the has its own innate capacity to heal, and all the tools that it needs all the chemicals and things. And so I look at treatment or healing as trying to get the roadblocks out of the way and try to try to help kids feel into their bodies a little bit more and be a little bit more connected to their bodies and not kind of out disconnected and focusing and more comfortable in their bodies in particular. And so we talk about ever we look a lot at embryology and how, as the bodies are formed, they start to develop an orientation and a midline. And then they have a right and a left, and they have a sense of like, are things balanced from side to side? And so as kids grow, I’m looking at, you know, how is their orientation to the midline?
Is there movement, symmetrical from side to side, and I’m looking at these really subtle inherent motions of the bones and of the fluids, the cerebrospinal fluid, and how are their areas where the blood and the lymphatics feel like they’re not flowing well, and where the whole tissue pattern motion pattern is not balanced from side to side. And then I’m looking at local areas too. And I’m looking at connective tissue, fascia, the soft tissues, they can get twists and pulls that are uncomfortable, and kids don’t know how to how to articulate that I see from tiny babies, sometimes kids will be arching backward or feel like they’re always tightening up or things like that, or sometimes just, I don’t want to get into the whole vaccine thing. But sometimes after vaccines, or after trauma, head trauma, or just a bad fall or emotional trauma, sometimes things get tightened up in certain ways or certain areas.
I think kids have a real sense of that, but they don’t know what to do about it, or how to articulate that. And so helping to get those really physical strains out of their body. And then also feeling some of our techniques help us to really feel into the nervous system. And how are the nerves doing from the brain all the way down through the peripheral nerves and through the body? And how are the organs doing are the connective tissues around the organs?
Tense in certain areas are the blood flow and lymphatic flows able to get through? And so it really puts a load on kids’ nervous systems, when any of those are kind of irritations or tensions that are piling up and kind of pulling it their attention all the time.
So it’s harder to learn or it’s harder to progress when you have that sort of tension remaining in your body.
Dr. Wendy Neal:
Yep, yep. It’s harder to focus, it’s harder to do a lot of things. And the brain doesn’t function as well as it could.
There are certain specific things like certain areas. Dr. Lawrence Levine is a neurologist and an osteopathic neurologist up in Washington. And he talks a lot in one of the autism books about a certain area in the brain that supports speech function and verbalization. And when things he talks about how a lot of kids with that, with impact in that area without areas that moving freely, can have more speech issues and problems with speech development. And so that’s certainly an area that I look at are problems with. Let’s see nerve-like cerebellar problems.
There are a lot of different things that can affect kids balance and vestibular systems. And just there are lots of different areas in the body. You want to keep your eyes on the horizon. If your neck function and your neck muscles and the nerves aren’t functioning well. It’s hard to keep your balance if the ears, the vestibular apparatus, and the ears aren’t lined up, right, then you can have balance issues. And so those are all big issues. seizure disorders can be impacted. Some other kind of neurological issue that Dr. Fryman in San Diego has a center for children. She’s passed away now but there’s a center for children down there where they work with kids from all around the world with really severe neurodevelopmental issues, seizure issues, all kinds of learning issues. Lots of different problems.
They use cranial osteopathy as one of their tools. Absolutely, yeah, yeah. biggest component. Yeah, yeah. Okay. Well, good to hear. So one several times.
Dr. Wendy Neal:
Sorry. Yeah, no, no, no,
it’s one of the things that’s coming to me. So some of the words you’ve used are, you know, to just free the stress, or we’re just removing on releasing the physical stress. The other word that is that you’ve used before is you’re supporting the nervous system. And then, and you didn’t actually use this word, but it’s coming to me is, is integration.
When I personally just for me, and for, not for me, but for said, when I think of the role that cranial osteopathy has played in, in our lives, it’s, as we go through periods of learning or learning a new skill, whether that’s, you know, in the past, it was hippotherapy, horseback riding, and, or it could have been OT, the stresses are built up. And then the just the curve of learning goes from like a, like, you know, a curve that’s going up, and then it just kind of flattens out and feels like we’re stuck. And then And then he said is often asked to come to see us to get unstuck, so that and then it not only helps him get unstuck, but there’s this other component of I feel like it integrates the learning somehow. And I feel like okay, and then he can, and then whatever he has learned is now well, I can’t use a better word than integration.
I just keep coming up with that. But But the other thing that said is often asked to see you about is about his headaches. So I remember that he would rate his headaches on a scale of, you know, seven or eight out of 10 in the morning, and then we would have a session with you that was just one hour with you. And then at the end, it would be a two out of 10. So do you. Do you see that? Is that pretty common? Well, I know you talked about this, the doctor who started experimenting with self because of headaches?
Dr. Wendy Neal:
Yes, yeah, I just see a lot of people with headaches, yeah, for all different ages. And that headaches can be caused by so many different things, you know, tightness in the head itself, or problems with blood flow out of the head, neck problems, all of those things have to be treated in balance. And one of the things that I didn’t mention in osteopathy, one of the things that I love about it is that we’re looking on many different levels we’re looking on, we’re looking at tissue function, which means the muscles, the connective tissue, the joints themselves, the bones, we’re looking at the fluids, all the fluids in the body are the blood vessels and the vessels themselves or their impacts and kinks. And also a more fluid motion within the whole of the body. And then we’re also looking at something that is a little more subtle and hard to put a hand handle on or name on.
Dr. Sutherland called it potency. And he talks about the ocean and the waves of the ocean. And then the tide underneath that, you know what is really driving that? And how is that moving things? And so we’re in any given treatment, I’m looking at all those different levels, and at what level is something restricted? And how can I best help him today? How can I best help Sid and how knowing you know, I always think it’s a teamwork effort to and I’m so glad SID is doing a lot of different things. And, you know, I’m a naturopath. And so I really believe in the importance of diet and gut function and all these other pieces.
I didn’t know that. I didn’t know you were well, you didn’t? Oh, yeah.
Dr. Wendy Neal:
I am. Yeah, I work with I work closely with our naturopath at the clinics. So she does most of the really in depth, dietary stuff and things because most of my continuing education is spent on you know, improving the techniques and the learning and the understanding of the anatomy and the physiology behind what I do. But I just think it’s so important. So I love what you do and how Yeah, how much it complements what I do. And then both therapy, occupational therapy, movement therapies and physical therapies. And all of those are so key to to helping kids learn how to move and,
Yeah and I was gonna ask you if you could talk a little bit about any specific case study and include said about anything dramatic that you’ve seen?
I know we’ve seen changes in envision with said, so I’ll talk about it and if you have anything to add, you can let me know but I know that since vision has been an and sensory sensitivity has been very high where he definitely had visual issues and his gait was affected by his visual issues. It was very hard to find out what the visual issues were was because he wasn’t even open to wearing glasses because he’s super sensitive in his face. And over if it took a while but over some time of working with you.
He even without glasses, his vision sort of stabilized where his doctor his optometrist mentioned that there was a huge difference between the set that walked into his door one year ago and now and pretty much the main thing that we’re doing and was osteopathy in the meantime. So where he is, he still had power but he just had this he wasn’t his, his sensory, his visual field wasn’t rowed roaming all over the place where he would actually, you know, just move back and forth in one place and his eyes would scan the entire room without, and it would just be too much visual input for him. But he was able to organize and control the input and be more balanced in his body.
Dr. Wendy Neal:
Yes, yes. Yeah. That yeah, there’s so many ways that osteopathy helps vision and then also helps that sense of themselves in space. In walking, standing, being in the world being in relation to other people, I think all of those, it has a big impact in all of those areas. And sometimes, like in SIDS case, it’s a slow, gradual change. So it’s hard to see from day to day. And then I mean, I was so amazed when he came in the last time. And, you know, I asked him to actually move down on the table, and he scrunched himself down immediately, and he could really respond and use and two things, you know, really integrate way. Yeah. Yeah.
I’ve seen it help with other things. Personally, we’ve seen it help with breathing and with sleep and all that, and you’ve explained how that might happen. But a lot of times, since I’m not an expert, I’m not able to, you know, really verbalize exactly why parents should try our cranial osteopathy. I think I’ll be able to do that now after this podcast. But if I were to ask you, why should someone or when should someone not why, but when would you recommend that parents try cranial osteopathy for their kids?
Dr. Wendy Neal:
As early as possible, I would say I, you know, I see kids from the day of birth. I’m a big believer in treating at all stages. And as we talked about neurological issues, some of the most profound ones I’ve seen are in young really young children, babies or children in one or two-year-old age range or just arching, backward and so stiff and always screaming and uncomfortable. And then you do a few treatments and they just start relaxing. And you can tell that they’re a lot more comfortable and less irritated in their body.
I, you know, definitely after any trauma, I have kids come in kids, it’s helpful with recurrent urine infections, kids with Down syndrome, particularly have midfacial growth issues. So they can have a lot of congestion problems with their, their dental oral pathway, not widening enough their arch and not growing wide enough. And this can, osteopathy can help impact that help things grow. If they have recurrent year infections, that’s an important time to come in. If they complain of pain really anywhere in their body that can be painful.
Sleep to write can Eliot sleep?
Dr. Wendy Neal:
Yeah, sleep regulation, you know, several times over the years since talked about or you’ve talked about how he seems more dysregulated. To me, that’s a big sign. Like when kids get more irritable or more agitated, hard to calm down if they can’t really communicate what’s going on.
I think that’s a really helpful time to bring them in and just get some bodywork. And, you know, often if they haven’t had bodywork before, you know, sometimes I’ll treat them standing or sitting. Dr. Fryman was British and she’s a woman from San Diego. And she would insist that kids come and sit on the table and I’m, I’m more open-ended I, for COVID, I would have lots and lots of toys in the room, as you know, and books and things to entertain. Now I have parents bring their own as much as possible if they think that would be helpful, or you know how Sid used to listen to his phone, listen to the music to help them calm down and be able to tolerate the treatment. And yes, now he doesn’t need any of that. Yeah, very.
That’s amazing. I hadn’t thought about that for a while. But yeah, he needed that for a few years before and then he just slowly let go of it. And he’s just fine. Yeah, yeah.
Dr. Wendy Neal:
It’s really changed a lot. So yeah. But I’m used to treating kids in different positions. And gradually they learn that it’s comfortable, and it’s more comfortable after they get treated and they want to come for treatment. Yeah, yeah. That Oh, I was just trying to think like in terms of I function, there are so many bones around the orbit that can get shifted, and there’s so many nerves and muscles that connect around the eye in the orbit that can get irritated and so really getting them back into balance is helpful.
I’m also feeling into the deeper level errors in the head and feel if it feels like there’s any irritation. I mean, it sounds really woo-woo to talk about treating the brain tissue itself. But there are a lot of courses out there now where we are learning to do that in different ways and learning what areas need a little extra support, what areas feel like there’s extra tension around them, and how we can relieve that.
Let’s see, trying to think of whether there’s Oh, just also kids, like anybody with asthma or, you know, things like breathing problems, heart problems, sometimes you have these constellations of symptoms, just opening up their ribs, you know, thinking about how it’s not just impacting their head, but impacting their ribs, their digestive function, those kinds of things supporting their, I can work on their abdomen and on the soft tissues and on their lung function and things like that, that some kids have those concomitant problems with. Yeah, and there’s there are certain things called visceral somatic reflexes to that with sympathetic areas along where the ribs in the spinal column me it’s just at the rib head is where there’s some sympathetic ganglion that can go to different organs and tissues. And so working on the rest of the body, as opposed to just the head is important too. And it helps calm the fight or flight reflex that so many kids have.
That was my next question was going to be about fighter flight, because a lot of times when you look with a child, that’s very dysregulated, they’re constantly reacting to everything in their surroundings, or in this, you know, you can see those dilated pupils and just being in this fight or flight and I feel like just if, if that could be the one thing that would change you. And that would be enough, right?
Dr. Wendy Neal:
Yep, yep, that’s absolute, that’s where I feel like osteopathy shines, there was a lot of early research on how to balance the sympathetic and the parasympathetic nervous system. Usually, these days, it’s sympathetic, that’s high. But in some kids, or even in adults, this parasympathetic can be high too. But just balancing that autonomic tone is a big focus of osteopathy. And we really learn a lot of things that helped to, to really shift that tone and to help. And I don’t want to make it sound like it’s a miracle cure in one visit every time.
You know, for some kids, you can see the difference immediately. And for some kids, it’s a long, slow process to really look at those organic changes, but Right, yeah, it really can shift and like you said, like was said, you know, eventually they start wanting to come in because they may not be able to say why but they know that something somehow they feel better. And I think a lot of it has to do with shifting that tone and helping them relax and helping their sympathetic to come down. Yeah, Dr. Jim Jealous is an osteopath down in Ashland who was one of my big mentors and he really emphasizes certain techniques that help balance the autonomics as do all of our elders in osteopathic, but there are a lot of things that we can do to really help with that.
I’m very grateful to have found you and to uh, found osteopathy, Dr. Neil and I just hope that more people are able to access it. I feel like in the world of disabilities, regardless of and in the world of neurodevelopmental disabilities, I feel like it’s a little bit underused.
Dr. Wendy Neal:
Yes, yeah. Yeah. It’s not nearly as well known as a lot of the other body therapies. And yeah, it’s interesting because most, I would say most of the other body therapies actually were offshoots of osteopathy, like cranial sacral therapy was developed by Dr. Sutherland, who is an osteopath. And you decided to go out and teach it to more people because not a lot of people knew about osteopathy. So it’s a kind of very specific focus way of teaching some of the cranial work and cranial procedures and things. So a lot of the other techniques are like that, too. But there we aren’t as well known as some of the other hands-on bodywork professions.
That’s true. And I hope that changes soon because there’s just so much to offer and so much change that can happen. Thank you for your time. Dr. Neil. If people want to contact you, they can go to quest WWW.quest-center.org Correct? Yes. Okay. Great. There are a number of techniques that are synergistic in the way they help with dysregulation for a list of my favorites six get my free ebook at functionalnutritionforkids.com/learning. Today’s episode was hosted by me Dr. Vaish Sarathy you can find functionalnutritionforkids.com music was by my daughter Maitri Gosh All right see you next week bye.