Collaboration with Cranial Osteopathy

I enjoy teaming with other professionals and frequently work in collaboration with osteopathic physicians who provides osteopathic manipulative medicine (OMM) services for patients. OMM, also referred to as “neuro-musculoskeletal medicine” or “osteopathic manipulative therapy” (don’t get this confused with Orofacial Myofunctional Therapy), utilizes manual manipulation, myofascial release, and other manipulations of tissue, fluid and bone with the ultimate goal to align the body’s structures and physiology to a state of balance and optimal function.

Osteopathic physicians who focus on cranial manipulation have numerous hours of specialized training monitored by medical governing bodies such as the Cranial Academy. The human skull consists of 22 bones: 8 cranial bones and 14 facial bones. There are over 85 muscles in the head and neck. Fascia, a weblike connective tissue, surrounds these muscles. A recent Washington Post article explains how fascia “modifies it’s consistency under stress” and can impact the structure and function of many body parts and systems.  Cranial osteopathic physicians manipulate the head and neck’s nuanced structures and systems.

Many of the structures targeted in cranial osteopathy are very important to Orofacial Myofunctional Therapy and other speech and language interventions. A patient’s head and neck can be significantly impacted by body traumas (e.g. complicated delivery, car accident, serious fall and/or traumatic brain injury, etc.), emotional traumas (e.g. chronic stress, post traumatic stress) and oral habits that result in atypical orofacial growth and development (e.g. thumb sucking, prolonged pacifier use, etc.). As some of my colleagues have explained, OMM can help a patient’s body to “unwind” after trauma and/or injury and make the body more receptive to new and correct oral muscular repatterning.

Patients with feeding and swallowing concerns and chronic orofacial pain often benefit from osteopathic manipulative medicine (OMM). A recent study showed a correlation between OMM and better outcomes in breastfeeding infants. Another study showed correlations between OMM and faster attainment of oral feeding in NICU infants. OMM can also be beneficial for adult patients. A randomized control study showed a significant correlation between osteopathic manipulative therapy and a reduction in TMD symptoms. A variety of case studies also discuss the correlations between OMM and better outcomes in managing chronic headaches and head and neck pain after dental surgery. I have personally seen cranial osteopathy have a profound impact on outcomes for infant patients with latching problems, adult and pediatric patients with chronic TMD and/or a history of head injuries, and patients with other complicated feeding and swallowing concerns.

In turn, osteopathic physicians often refer patients to me, as many see a strong correlation between a patient’s OMM outcomes and the muscle patterns of the face, mouth, tongue and jaw. As mentioned on other Clinical Topic pages, correct oral rest tongue posture and correct muscular patterning during swallowing supports healthy cranial growth and development. If a patient presents with OMD or “tongue thrust,” it could impact OMM progress.  Interventions like Orofacial Myofunctional Therapy support healthy orofacial neuromuscular re-education and the overarching goals of osteopathic manipulative medicine.