What is cranial osteopathy?

Cranial osteopathy is a subtle and progressive field within osteopathy. It aims to restore the optimal functioning of the body and specifically addresses the skull, the central nervous system, the surrounding membranes, the cerebro-spinal fluid and the sacrum. The importance of these structures cannot be underestimated and even a small dysfunction can cause ailments throughout the body.
Traditional osteopathy recognizes that external forces and stressors can cause restrictions in the joints, ligaments and muscles of the body. In the same way cranial osteopaths acknowledge that postural imbalance or trauma can restrict the cranial bones and impede vital functions.

What is the treatment like?

Most cranial treatments begin similar like other osteopathic consultations – the patient explains his current and past major complaints and medical history and the osteopath examines the relevant structures. During treatment the patient relaxes, while the cranial osteopath gently places his/her hands on the cranium, spine and sacrum to diagnose and treat the restrictions. The treatment can however extend to parts of or the whole body, as other areas of the body might need to be addressed. After a cranial treatment, one often feels sleepy and relaxed.

Who can benefit?

Babies: birth is a very traumatic experience, as the baby's soft skull and tiny body get compressed through the birth canal. It usually takes time before tissues resolve the trauma and stress naturally, but sometimes, due to an inter-uterine position or a difficult birth, the babies can retain that stress or moulding and have difficulties latching, colicky symptoms or be irritable and sleepless. Parents often find their babies more relaxed with cranial treatments.
Mothers: pregnancy is a period of many changes that occur with the mother's body. Due to the ligamentous laxity the pelvis widens to allow birth. As it is the reciprocal end of the cranium, giving birth affects the sacrum, spinal cord, and a pull of the membranes can affect the skull as well.
Daily life: As life goes on, one can experience many traumas, falls on the head, daily stress and anxiety. Overcoming past traumas and a build-up of stress is important for one's well-being and cranial osteopathy can help with relaxation.
Circulatory problems: Impeded circulation can cause congestion and headaches. Cranial osteopathy addresses tight tissues, reducing tightness, fluid build-up, and therefore aims to improve circulation to and from the head.


The pioneer of cranial osteopathy is W.G. Sutherland. Prior to his work, osteopathy treated the head as incapable of having a dysfunction. Sutherland demonstrated that lesions of the skull can cause compensatory changes throughout the body. He was taught at anatomy classes that the sutures of the cranium ossify and there is no motility between them. However, he observed that they are bevel-like and started a journey to explore if this was really the case. He created a helmet, which he used to slightly compress various parts of his own head. Then depending on the area of the skull being compromised, Sutherland began to experience different problems, from gastric responses to mental confusion. He concluded that the sutures allow a fracture of a movement, which is vital for one's wellbeing.

The Cranial Rhythm

Sutherland found that the motility of the cranial bones is occurring within a rhythm, which he named the Primary Respiratory Mechanism (also known as the Breath of Life/Involuntary Mechanism etc.). The name implied that it expresses potency and a vital life force, independent from breathing and cardiac cycles. The motility is also inherent to the sacrum bone, the meninges, the cerebro-spinal fluid, the central nervous system and is expressed within all bodily structures.
The cranial rhythm is very subtle and a cranial osteopath requires much training before being able to observe and diagnose it. If there is any compromise in the expression of this rhythm, it is likely that the structures in the area are also compromised. The cranial osteopath focuses on that structure and aims to restore the optimal function of the whole body.