The brain is a unique organ consisting of three major types of cells: neurons, astrocytes, and microglia. Our neurons are responsible for most of the actions we attribute to our nervous system’s operation. They oversee both the voluntary actions of our bodies, such as walking, talking, and creating our thoughts, feelings, and decisions, as well as executing our involuntary physiological mechanisms, such as our heartbeat and digestion. As important as the neurons are, however, they are a minority number of cell types in our brains. We have more astrocytes and microglia cells that support our smart neurons. The astrocytes have one foot upon a blood vessel and the other on an axon, and the microglia sweep our brains, looking for any infection they can clear.
Trauma can be from a physical blow to the head, an emotional blow to the heart, or an infectious onslaught that overwhelms our system. When we experience trauma, a network in our brain called the Central Autonomic Network (CAN) gangs up on our Vagus nerve and inhibits it. When the Vagus nerve gets inhibited, this can cause dizziness, heart palpitations, a feeling like your “on and off” stress switch is hyperreactive, indigestion, diarrhea, and constipation. When the Vagus nerve is inhibited, we have an increase in inflammation. This inflammation and white matter degeneration can persist for years after a single traumatic brain injury. (Kevin Tracey, The Inflammatory reflex, Nature Vol. 420 12/2002 pages 853-859). Modern medicine recognizes the profound importance of the vagal nerve and has created “vagal nerve stimulators,” which are little mechanical devices that are surgically placed just under the skin near the vagal nerve output in those with ongoing seizures. We are noticing that the vagal nerve stimulators reduce not only inflammation but also seizures. Osteopathic cranial manipulative therapy is like receiving vagus nerve stimulation but without a mechanical device!
During a traumatic brain injury, several things can happen to the axons (or arms and legs) of our neurons that help deliver our neurological impulses. The axons can undergo shearing, tearing, or stretching. When the axons are sheared, the little microtubules inside our neuron cells that deliver nutrients and chemical messengers begin to shrivel and breakdown, a toxic inflammatory chemical called “glutamate” gets dumped into the space, and the mitochondria which produce ATP (or energy packets) in each cell of the body become overwhelmed as they get flooded in a soup of ions such as calcium that make it difficult for them to function. The cerebral blood flow collapses, and a tremendous amount of oxidative stress begins to happen in the most important organ of our body, the brain. The microglia of the brain, which are the brain’s white blood cells (or soldiers that fight infection), are then aroused and become hyperactive. This creates inflammation in the brain, which can last for years. Symptoms can be headache, dizziness or fainting, balance problems, exercise intolerance, forgetfulness, trouble concentrating, fatigue, and insomnia.
If you have undergone a blow to the front of the face, this often distorts the sphenoid bone, which supports the eye and vision. The sphenoid bone also houses the pituitary gland, and so hormonal issues can ensue. A blow to the cheekbones or temporal bone around the ear can compromise hearing and create issues with balance and dizziness.
Until recently, it was thought that the brain had no lymphatic system. Anatomists and scientists are now discovering that indeed it does: it’s called the “glymphatic” system. This system allows for the drainage of some nasty things:
Osteopathic cranial manipulation helps optimize the glymphatic fluid flow resulting in increased health for the brain!
During an osteopathic cranial session, the fully clothed patient lies down on a table in a quiet room while I apply a light touch to the cranium (skull), the sternum (breastbone where the ribs connect in the front), and the sacrum, which is the bone at the base of the low back, that connects to your tailbone. With skilled training and the hundreds of hours of practical application I have had, I am able to discern the position and movement of the 22 bones in the skull.
With a light touch, I feel to find answers to questions such as: Has the brain slowed its motion? Are the brain’s pulsations smooth and even or lopsided, so one hemisphere or lobe limps along? Are the neurons trembling as if under the influence of a subclinical seizure? Are the sutures in the cranial bones compressed? Is the critical ganglion of the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system damaged or in hyper mode?
During the session, I am focused on massaging the fluid flow under the dural membranes and increasing venous output through the superior, inferior, and transverse venous sinuses, relaxing the nuclei of the central autonomic system, especially the locus coeruleus, which produces the highest amount of norepinephrine, or stress hormone, in our bodies as well as increasing the balance between the vagus nerve and amygdala. I will also focus on the little canopy of membrane that covers the pituitary gland, releasing it, as well as the master endocrine gland, the hypothalamus, which is in charge of our adrenal and thyroid hormones.
If you suffer from headaches, dizziness, insomnia, anxiety, depression, brain fog, nausea, indigestion, constipation or diarrhea, or trauma, you may really benefit from osteopathic cranial treatment.
For the initial session, 45 minutes is recommended, and for follow-up appointments, 30 minutes is recommended. You should expect to notice prolonged improvement after three sessions. Generally, after a session, you will feel like you have slept like a baby for eight hours or just returned from a two-week vacation.
Despite the gentle nature of this work, major shifts are occurring in your brain and body. You may be sore the next day and experience ongoing shifts in the body, including spontaneous adjustments, electrical sensations, and tenderness. Experiences of this kind generally arise the same or the next day, and the body tends to stabilize by the second day.
Expect to feel subdued or inwardly focused for the first day or so following your treatment. You may be inclined to sleep or rest more. It is best to refrain from impact exercise or hard work for a day or so following your treatment.