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Cranial Osteopathy

In Palliative Care
by Jaya

Jaya studied Osteopathy in Switzerland for 6 years, graduating in 1997, had a practice in New Zealand for 5 years, and since then has practised in Europe and India.


Osteopathy for terminally ill patients
One principle of osteopathy is that the body possesses the inherent ability to heal itself. The body is made up of cells, organized in structures, that all have movements. A restriction of that movement will bring stagnation and dysfunction. Osteopathy addresses these blockages and restores movement, which allows the body to restore its natural state of functioning. This holds true even as one lies dying. The body can be supported in maintaining its optimal function until death and symptoms of pain can be reduced.

What is osteopathy and cranial osteopathy?
Osteopaths recognize health as an active principle. This health is the expression of life – an inherent ordering force, a natural internal intelligence. Cranial osteopathy is a subtle and profound healing form which assists this natural bodily intelligence to restore balance in the physical, emotional and spiritual being at any stage of life.

Studies of the cranium, its content and the mechanics of the skull led to the discovery that the 26 bones that make up the skull are intricately jointed in such a way as to permit very slight motion, independent of the movement of breathing and heartbeat. The discovery of cranial motion led to the understanding that the pattern of motion in the skull and its contents is present in all the tissues of the body and is a basic property of living tissues.

How does it work?
When body tissues are subject to trauma, whether physical or emotional, this motion is disrupted. A chain reaction may take place which is often mediated through the communication networks of the body such as connective tissue, blood and lymph systems, nervous and hormonal systems. This in turn can lead to problems of disturbed function in other parts of the body. Palpation of these motions allows the cranial osteopath to facilitate change in areas of restriction and help restore this vital motion. The restriction of movement corresponds to a lack in the capacity of the life force to express its self healing. Consequently, symptoms of disease, pain and tension may arise and the emotional state of the patient may also be affected.

In such cases, the body requires a catalyst to maximize its own healing potential to resolve the part which is out of balance with the whole.

What can be treated with osteopathy?
Cranial osteopathy is so gentle that it is suitable for babies, children, the elderly or terminally ill patients, as well as adults. It is also used in fragile or acutely painful conditions. As a whole body therapy, treatment can aid almost every condition, raising the vitality and enabling the body’s own self-healing process to be utilized. In the case of a terminally ill patient, treatment can restore the homeostasis and optimal function of the body to provide maximum comfort and ease, both physically and emotionally, until death.

Osteopathic techniques used to treat a terminally ill patient are no different from those employed to treat patients at any other stage of life. The intensity of the intervention is of course variable and is dictated by the patient’s level of physical tolerance. The treatment includes the patient and the extended family. In an ideal situation, when a caregiver knows the family well and for a long time, there is no anxiety in telling the truth about the patient’s condition, for the caregiver knows the strengths and weaknesses of each family member.

What happens during a session?
The treatment consists of hands-on techniques which often lead to a state of profound relaxation. Afterwards it is advised to drink water to flush out toxins released through the healing process and to rest for a few hours or for the remainder of the day if possible.

How can terminally ill patients benefit from osteopathy?
It takes a team of healthcare providers to meet the needs of just one terminally ill patient. End-of-life issues pose a unique constellation of challenges for the physician. Multiple dysfunctions have a domino effect on the patient. These challenges demand that physicians use all of their knowledge of somatic dysfunctions, disease entities and systemic interactions whilst incorporating alternative treatments, in order to be an effective health facilitator for the patient.

Physicians have to co-ordinate their care in such a way that there is not an overlap of care but rather a smooth, concerted effort to achieve the optimal level of support for the patient. In a chaotic environment, an osteopath’s ability to identify dysfunctions and optimize function can provide relief and even comfort to the patient. A patient’s need for analgesics, sedatives, laxatives and diuretics can also be potentially reduced.

Some of the problems for end-of-life care that can be addressed and alleviated include the following:

  • Pain
  • Gastrointestinal dysfunction, including nausea, vomiting, ileus and constipation
  • Cardiopulmonary problems including shortness of breath and central and peripheral edema.

Often terminally ill patients demonstrate organ dysfunction in systems not immediately related to their primary disease process. Osteopaths, through their hands-on diagnosis, can identify related symptoms which are secondary to the root cause.

Managing and alleviating pain
Most patients, as they enter their final phase of life, equate death with the fear of pain. The main goal of the physician is to allow patients to live their last days as fully as possible. It is important that, "one lives until one dies." There is no upper limit to the dosage of pain medication, as long as the physician gradually increases the dose to match the increase in pain. Knocking out the pain does not mean knocking out the patient. Osteopaths have additional therapeutic modality to offer their patients to alleviate the pain of somatic dysfunction which may in turn reduce a patient’s need for opioids.

Along with medication, the use of osteopathy can be employed. Osteopathy can help make pain more tolerable and enhance the homeostasis of the patient’s body. In general, hands-on treatment has a multitude of benefits for the patient. It can correct somatic dysfunctions and has a positive effect on the emotional state of the patient. It makes a patient feel worthwhile and not just a burden to those around them as they face their final days of earthly existence.

Osteopathy helps to decrease pain, improve circulation and enhance gastro-intestinal peristalsis and lymphatic flow. It also says to the patient, "I am here for you and you are not alone."

This hands-on form of medical care demonstrates that the inevitable disease process does not have to decrease the quality of a single second of human life.

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