Simply put, Osteopathy is governed by the principle that the structure of the body’s connective tissues determines the way it functions. Fascia, ligaments, muscles & bones all fall into the category of connective tissues. Bearing this in mind, it is hardly surprising that if the body is subjected to strong compressive or twisted forces, these connective tissues can become distorted and strained. This is where paediatric osteopathy becomes relevant – following even the most routine of births, a baby or child may feel uncomfortable due to tissue strain. Unable to effectively convey the source of their pain, infants will resort to common methods of signalling to parents that something is wrong, such as crying, not sleeping and/or not eating well. When other medical causes of these signals are ruled out, many midwives and health visitors refer babies and young children to paediatric osteopaths. Osteopathy does not intend to treat or cure ‘conditions', but instead tends to treat the whole person in order to improve function. “When healthy function is restored within the body, symptoms usually reduce” explains Paediatric Osteopath Zoe Mundell. Zoe treats many children at her osteopathic practice, whose parents/carers seek help for a wide range of symptoms. “Osteopathic treatment can benefit patients with a wide variety of symptoms by attempting to correct the cause of their problem. We will treat musculoskeletal problems which we find often co-exist with many common complaints. ”In this article, Zoe Mundell highlights three of these conditions in which a visit to the paediatric osteopath can reap huge benefits:
This is a condition in which the additional connective tissue (the frenulum) remains attached to the lower part of the baby’s mouth, which prevents the baby’s tongue from moving freely. In these cases, a freniotomy is commonly performed to cut the tissue. Whilst this quick procedure will free the tongue the baby will often still have feeding difficulties due to the associated tightness in the neck and tongue muscles. This can prevent the baby from having good jaw mechanics and so feeding issues may remain unresolved, despite the freniotomy. These babies tend to take in a lot of air when feeding due to this lack of jaw control (a condition medically known as aerophagia) which will cause the baby further discomfort. Medications such as Infracol may be given, which relieves wind, infant colic and griping pain. By referring to a paediatric osteopath, issues related to the baby’s jaw mechanics can be addressed, leading to efficient feeding and diminished discomfort.
This condition, known more commonly as ‘flat head syndrome’, can be caused by a number of factors. The position of the baby in the womb (termed inter-uterine moulding) can cause plagiocephaly to develop, particularly if it shares the space with its twin. Torticollis (contracture of sternocleidomastoidmuscle) and some congenital conditions have also been identified as contributors to plagiocephaly. However, more commonly the condition is due to the positions the baby is placed in on a daily basis. Parents often notice their baby will prefer to look one way, and may not be able to turn the other way. (This may also be associated with feeding inefficiently from one breast). If a baby does not have good neck function in both directions, it will always roll towards the preferred side. As their delicate bones are still only formed in membrane, they will begin to flatten on that side resulting in a parallelogram-shaped head, termed plagiocephaly. This flattening may begin mild but can progress, significantly distorting the balance of the face as well as the baby’s growing posture and balance. By restoring a full functional range of motion to the baby’s neck, along with practical exercises and positional advice given to parents, a paediatric osteopath can play an important role in allowing a baby’s head to grow evenly.
THE UNSETTLED BABY
As a paediatric osteopath, Zoe treats many children whose parents/carers seek help for a diverse range of symptoms and problems. Musculoskeletal tension can not only cause discomfort, but also affect how children develop movement and posture. Infants, toddlers and young school age children are too young or immature to accurately explain their discomfort and so they express pain or discomfort through changes in their behaviour. For example, if a baby is uncomfortable the only way he/she can express this is through crying, not sleeping and/or not feeding well which causes many midwives and health visitors to refer young children to paediatric osteopaths. Toddlers in particular may manifest in more complex ways involving behaviour and development.
The majority of the work of a paediatric osteopath involves assessing the child’s body for stresses and strains acquired in early life, through the physical force of birth or being confined to a cramped space while in the womb. When treating older children, advice and treatment related to posture, injuries and musculoskeletal pain is often provided.
Zoe Mundell is an experienced osteopath and the Director of New Body Osteopathy. We are delighted to have Zoe Mundell speak at our OCN Level 5 Maternity Nurse Training Course,