from ‘fitness life’ issue 19 - JULY 2005

Do you experience difficulty breathing, have a tight, claustrophic feeling in your chest and are constantly coughing or wheezing? Chances are you may be one of the many New Zealanders who suffer from Asthma, which is when the airways within the lungs become oversensitive to triggers such as a sudden drop in temperature, exercise, dust, pollen or pet hair.
Statistics show that 15.5 percent of kiwi adults aged 15 to 40 have asthma, as do 21 Percent of New Zealand children aged up to 14 years. Among 14-year-olds the rate is as high as 30 percent – that is the second highest rate of Asthma among 14-year-olds in the world after the U.K. The bottom line id that more than 550 000 (or one in six) people in New Zealand suffer from Asthma – an alarming fact. Not to mention the increase in asthma related mortalities since 1995, which has played a major role in reversing the 1990’s trend of a steadily decreasing death rate among New Zealanders.
The reasons as to the prevalence of asthma in our country are unclear, but potential triggers currently under scrutiny are diet, climate. Immunisation rates, economic conditioned, community care standards, rates of tuberculosis and other respitory conditions. The Wellington Asthma Research Group has also revealed that the use of antibiotics, especially in the first year of life, is associated with a fourfold increase in the likelihood of asthma.
Before you panic, the good news is that there are methods of effectively relieving – and even preventing – asthmatic symptoms. Cranial Osteopathy is one of them. But before we can understand how it works, let me first explain what osteopathy is in the broader sense of the word. Physical strain, emotional stress, injury or poor posture can all affect the musculo-skeletal system, causing pain or impairing nerve function elsewhere in the body. This, in turn, may affect the vital organs as well as the respitory, circulatory and nervous systems. Using a series of manual techniques, osteopathy aims to ease muscle tension and restore bone and joint function to strengthen the body systems and restore the body’s ability to heal itself.

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Cranial Osteopathy is a form of osteopathy that works to subtly manipulate the bones of the cranium, the parts of the skull enclosing the brain. This subtle, non-evasive treatment is very effective in treating a wide range of musculo-skeletal problems in the entire body, such as stiff and painful necks and lower backs, as well as shoulder and knee ailments. It is especially known to be effective with young children who suffer from colic and recurrent infections, or to restore distortions in the cranial bones of babies caused by a traumatic birth, which they say may cause chronic pain in later life.
A U.S osteopath, Dr. William Garner Sutherland, developed cranial osteopathy in the 1930s. Contrary to the consensus of the time that the cranium was a fixed, immobile structure, Dr. Sutherland discovered how the 26 bones of the skull fitted together like a jigsaw puzzle, each bone with its own anatomical variations designed to permit small but crucial amounts of movement.
Dr. Sutherlands studies enabled him to conclude that the cranial bones have a constant rhythmic movement (felt as a contraction and expansion of the skull) and that the sacrum, (the triangular bone between the two pelvic hip bones) involuntarily rocks backwards and forwards very slightly. The cerebro-spinal fluid constantly fluctuates around the brain and travels down the spinal cord about 10 – 14 times per minute in an average healthy person, and less when suffering ill health or disease. The cranial osteopath is able to determine these fluctuations through touch.
Although there are ‘typical’ symptoms associated with asthma, not every patient will present the same strains and dysfunctions, and therefore osteopathic treatment is specific to each individual. To give you a practical example: a 15-year-old boy was presented to the clinic with complaints of recurrent bouts of asthma and difficulty in shaking off colds. This had been an ongoing situation since his early childhood. Examination revealed many of the following ‘typical’ dysfunctions: the upper thoracic spine and ribs were restricted in their range of movement and were tender to the touch. The thoracic diaphragm was tight and tender to the touch. The base of the skull was held in a certain pattern of restriction in conjunction with poor facial bone mobility. Fluctuation of the cerebro-spinal fluid was not good, as you would normally expect. Over a period of five weeks, cranial osteopathy was used to resolve the problems in these areas, together with prescribed exercises. The result? The patient showed a significant improvement not only in the original presenting symptoms but also in his overall well-being and vitality.
In some cases asthma may need to be controlled with medication, while in others it suffices to help prevent the ‘triggers’ that initiate the asthmatic response. Osteopathy can help improve the oxygen flow in our body, which will help us manage asthma better, make us feel more alert and enhance our physical and mental performance. Subsequently, we will have a stronger immune system, which will make us less prone to other respitory ailments.

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