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Unlocking the Benefits: Exploring Cranial Facial Techniques for Plagiocephaly and Vagus Nerve Health

Did you know there are some parts of your skull that don't fuse until you are 90 years old? Originally, I sought to learn some cranial fascial technique to help babies with plagiocephaly (a common and treatable condition that causes a baby's soft skull to become flattened in one area due to continuous pressure on that part of the head). I am happy to say that not only have I learned how to help relieve pressure on the skull to help babies develop and grow appropriately, but that adults can be helped too!


Some parts of your skull don't fuse until you are 90 years old!


Why do some areas fuse in childhood while others don't? While very stable and secure, the cranial bones of our skull actually have a small degree of motion and need to have a certain level of pliability in certain areas. The way I think about it is like a suspension bridge. If you think about when you go over a long bridge, the bridge is divided into blocks with teeth like metal connections to allow for expansion when the pavement expands and contracts from temperature change and to absorb shock when a natural disaster hits like an earthquake. Without these sturdy, strong sutures throughout the bridge, if any of those changes were to happen, the bridge would crack, develop weak spots, and/or fall altogether. It's a similar principle, but for our skulls. We need ever-so-slight free movement in certain areas to allow for shock absorption for things like chewing our food with the 162 pounds of pressure per square inch of our jaw strength.

Now, what can happen when our cranial bones don't move the way they should? It all comes back to the brain. The cranial bones are connected to really important connective tissue inside our skulls called DURA. The dura is highly specialized dense connective tissue that surrounds the brain and spinal cord and allows for protection of the brain as well as aiding in the flow of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) around the brain and nervous system. That fluid needs to be able to freely flow to bring nutrients to the brain and flush out waste products from the brain and it's highly influenced by that dura. Links to disturbed sleep, attention and focus disorders, as well as processing and sensory disorders have been found with issues relating to the dura. Keeping the cranial bones free moving helps the natural pumping action of the dura so its relationship to the brain are working harmoniously.

The skull also has special nerves, arteries, and veins that exit directly from it-- Most notably, the vagus nerve. If you are really into the latest and greatest research and data on healthcare, you will have probably heard about the vagus nerve and polyvagal theory. The main general takeaway you should know about the vagus nerve is that it's vitally important for regulation of your gut functions like metabolism and digestion, internal organs like lungs and heart, and immunity. The vagus nerve exits your skull on either side through the jugular foramen (along with your jugular veins and 2 more cranial nerves- glossopharyngeal and accessory nerves). So a loss of flexibility in the skull can encroach upon these important structures and affect their normal function.

Who can benefit from these cranial fascial release maneuvers? The parts of the skull that are meant to fuse typically occur from 3-6 years of age, but if a baby has plagiocephaly, depending on how early and how severe, it needs to be addressed sooner rather than later, ideally within the first 3 months of age. If the plagiocephalgic baby is older, it might still be helped, but will likely need more time and visits. So if you are looking to rebalance baby's head shape, you need to come in as soon as you can, because the more of a "wait and see" approach, the harder it will be to help as time goes on without care. The pliability of the cranial bones are essential especially in infancy and childhood for proper development, so it is still highly beneficial for babies and children with or without plagiocephaly. That being said, in terms of the cranial bones pliability for CSF flow and facilitating vagus nerve, kids and adults under 90 can all experience some relief of tension from these maneuvers if indicated.

Are the maneuvers to release the fascia painful? These maneuvers treat the fascia, which is a connective tissue that behaves differently from muscles, tendons, and ligaments. They require light touch, with no more pressure than you would tolerate on your eyeball. It's gentle, subtle, and effective. For those I have worked on thus far, they have said it's comfortable and they are surprised at how much freedom of movement there is. It doesn't take long to perform either. You just need a professional to perform it.

As a Gonstead practitioner, I am confident in relieving tension and restoring health and vitality through specific spinal adjustments. Chiropractic can help so many different aches and pains by addressing the source rather than symptoms. For majority of cases, that source is the spine and nervous system, and we address it through carefully applied adjustments to the spine. Upstream of the spine though, is a whole other animal. Chiropractic has given me homework for life, and that includes how to regulate and optimize the nervous system (brain included) naturally. Learning these maneuvers in no way makes me an expert, but they do equip me with the ability to help those in my area who need it.

Special thanks to Dr. Claudia Anrig and Dr. Steve Williams for their amazing educational contributions!

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