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Treating colic with osteopathy
The bones in the neck and spine can affect the baby’s digestive system, says osteopath Dr Guy Ashburner.
In newborns the head and neck generally bear the brunt of the mechanical forces encountered during labour and delivery. It is, however, designed to withstand these stresses and therefore most babies go on to be productive and well-adjusted adults.

The passage through the birth canal is a process for which most humans are extremely well adapted. The flexibility of the cartilage produces a folding of the vault bones, similar to the arrangement of petals of a rose bud.

After delivery, the mechanical forces and movements associated with breathing, crying and suckling expand the cranium and correct the sutural overlap.

In some cases the normal forces of life are unable to resolve these strains, and we have a baby who may present with irritability, problems suckling, abnormal posture, or a myriad of other vague clinical symptoms.

Establishing a clinical diagnosis and understanding its causes are probably the most difficult tasks faced by a clinician caring for such an infant.

How the head affects the body

The head and neck play an important role in the establishment of posture and balance. Strains and mechanical dysfunction may present immediately after birth, or with new developmental milestones.

Basic reflexes
linking head and neck control with eye movements, chewing, suckling, vestibular activity, and control of the torso and extremities exist at birth.These influence and in turn are influenced by mechanical function in the neck and the joint between the neck and the head.

Osteopathic treatment is mainly directed at somatic dysfunction of occipitocervical junction and upper cervical spine for their effect of the vagus and parasympathetic somatovisceral reflexes.

Somatic dysfunction of the thoracic spine, ribs and upper lumbar spine may be treated to affect sympathetic somatovisceral reflexes. In other words, the organs involved in digestion are supplied by nerves emerging from the thorax. If these segments are dysfunctional by any means, the infant may suffer digestion disturbances.

Dysfunction in these areas also impacts the lymphatic and venous drainage of the abdominal contents, of which the diaphragm in extremely important.

Osteopathic treatment to these areas could therefore alleviate symptoms caused by these mechanical disturbances.

But does osteopathy work?

A study by Clive Hayden in 2006 showed osteopathy to be successful in the treatment of infantile colic (Hayden and Mullenger, 2006).

This study was based on 28 infants over a period of four weeks. They were split into two groups; one group receiving osteopathic treatment, and the other forming the control group. The infants who received osteopathic treatment showed a 63% reduction in crying and 11% increase in sleep, compared to only 23% reduction in crying and 2% increase in sleep in the control group.

This study therefore strongly suggests that osteopathic treatment can benefit infants with colic, however a larger double blind study is warranted.

Click here to find an osteopath in your area.

Read more:
What is osteopathy?
A hands-on way to treat colic

Would you try osteopathic to treat colic?

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