Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Cranio-sacral motion and the ideomotor effect

In a number of coutries, Osteopathy is becoming or close to be a healthcare profession. This should be considered an honor. But this rise to more responsability asks for a deeper introspection about what is based on belief from what is based on facts. This is especially true for the cranio-sacral concepts of Osteopathy.

Until recently, osteopaths were claiming that they could feel with their amazing palpation the movement of the Cerebro-spinal fluid that was pulsing in the cranium. Later on a few researches have shown that was impossible. Quick, hurry a new theory ! Electro-magnetic pulse? Venous pulse? Contractibility of the dura mater ? Quantum healing? The only research showing some effect of cranial therapy on a body's rythm was done in 2002 on 23 participants. It shows an effect a smoothening of the Traube-Hering-Mayer pulsations with a cranial approach. This is a bit weak to validate the existency of cranial motion. More than 5 researches were done to see if 2 osteopaths were feeling the same rythm on the same patient. None of them were conclusive! Whilst all the evidences seem to show that cranial motion is non-existent, nonetheless a lot of osteopaths still practice and believe in cranio-sacral therapy and its concept.

Osteopaths do feel a movement, Are you saying that thousands of osteopaths are having palpatory hallucinations ?

Yes and no...

Have you heard of the "Ideomotor Effect" or "Ideomotor movement"

Ideomotor Movement

Ideomotor movement are movements that we'll induce without realizing it, just by imagining consciously or incousciously the same movements. This effect is the explanation for radiaesthesia, the pendulum, and the ouija board. It might also well be the explanation of cranial osteopathy.

extract from wikipedia:

"Scientific tests by the English scientist Michael Faraday, the French chemist Michel Eugène Chevreul, and the American psychologists William James and Ray Hyman have demonstrated that many phenomena attributed to spiritual or paranormal forces, or to mysterious "energies," are actually due to ideomotor action. Furthermore, these tests demonstrate that "honest, intelligent people can unconsciously engage in muscular activity that is consistent with their expectations".[2] They also show that suggestions that can guide behavior can be given by subtle clues (Hyman 1977).

Some alternative medicine practitioners claim they can use the ideomotor effect to communicate with a patient's unconsciousness using a system of physical signals (such as finger movements) for the unconscious mind to indicate "yes", "no" or "I'm not ready to know that consciously"."

The pendulum example:

Before you use a pendulum, you have to calibrate it. You have to be in "resonance" with it. To do so, you have to ask yourself a few "yes" questions and notice in which direction the pendulum is turning (let's say clockwise). Try now with a "no answer" question and the pendulum should rotate in the other direction (anti-clockwise). The pendulum is now calibrated and you can ask any yes-no questions and check in which direction it is rotating.
This s due to the ideomotor effect. your subconscious mind is creating slight movement that are giving momentum to the pendulum and making it turn in one way or the other.

This effect feels real enough for thousands of people to believe in the extraordinary power of the pendulum, to check the gender of a futur baby, find your keys, find some water etc etc...

This is the same effect than the ouija borad used during a seance.

Would it be possible that the osteopath is also a victim of his proprioceptive sensations?

Can we accept the fact that radiesthesists could fool themselves but we as osteopaths, couldn't be fooled by our sensations when our job is essensialy based on proprioception ? Are we so full of ourselves that we can imagine not be tricked by our own feelings ?

Dear cranio-sacral practitioner, next time you are on a non-lesionnal sphenoid ask yourself this question: "can I feel a right side bending or is it possible to feel a right side bending?" and you will notice that strangely enough the sphenoid will follow a right side bending after a few seconds!

It is surely really unpleasant to think that for the last 80 years we believed in the existence of an non-existing phenomenon! a phenomenon that we induce ourselves !

Our teachers we right when they were telling us to put some intention in our techniques because with intention this movement and the ideo-motor effect are magnified!

Why do so many practitioner still believe in the cranial motion and in the IVM?

Imagine the cerebral effort that we need to put ourselves through to acknowledge the fact that our belief system (cranial motion) we had for years was wrong. It is as hard for a god believer to believe tha there is no god, or an American to believe that Socialism is not evil. This change of belief is possible but is intellectualy very costly.

Just Imagine how hard it is for the therapist to admit to his patients that what he was telling them for years was wrong... The patients should be pleased about the progress of their osteopath, but definitely others might have the feeling of having been fooled around for years.

Why does an osteopath want to believe in an inherent cranio-sacral motion ?

1. Osteopathy defies science: “This movement exists, we know it and we can feel it but science is unable to prove it. Science has limits and cannot prove everything.” This statement helps showing the superiority of Osteopathy against the "evil" scientific based medecine.

2. “This movement is so fine that only the skillful osteopath is able to feel it." This allows the osteopath to "show off" about his extraordinary palpation skills. Let's be serious, is the movement we feel really around a few micrometers ?

3. It allows to see the body with a vital energy (the osteopathic Qi)

Is all cranial osteopathy to be discarded ?

This doesn't mean that cranial osteopathy isn't effective, it just say that there is probably no inherent mobility of the cranial bones, and that the therapist himself is responsible for the movement that he is feeling. The cranial therapist is the source of the IVM (involuntary mechanism). This theory would just so easily explain why 2 osteopaths will feel 2 different rythms on the same patient.

In fact the movement felt by the practioner would be an interaction between the motion that he is inducing with the ideomotor movements and the reaction of the patients' cervical restrictions and fascial tensions.

This rythmic movement is really relaxing and a great number of patient is drifting away within minutes. This cranio-sacral approach rocks rythmically the cranium and the neck of the patient which is truly relaxing and can get rid of persisstent musculo-skelettal tension.

Let's try to explain what the practitioner feels during the treatment with an ideomotor movement perspective:

1. The therapist induces a rythmic Flexion/Extension on the cranium, but the neck of the patient is tense. This initiated movement is in conflict with the neck tensions. The practiotioner believes that there is no or a poor cranial movement.
2. After a few direct or indirect techniques some of the neck tensions disappear and slowly when the practitioner induces these F°/E° movement the head of the patient offers less resistance. The Cranial mobility seems greater.
3. After a few more minutes the head and neck of the patient is much more relaxed. The body of the patient understand what the osteopath wants to induce as a movement and start following it. The osteopath analysed a much better cranial movement freed of cranial tensions!


Too few researches seem to prove that there is a cranial motion taking place.

We can say "absence of proof is not proof of abscence" But is there not a moment were we could be wrong? Do we have to wait another century of unsuccessful researches or the last 70 years are enough ?

Isn't it logical to say that this inherent movement doesn't seem to exist until proof of its existency ? And if one day it is proven to exist, we will still congratulate osteopathy to have discovered it !

Wouldn't it be more reasonable to say that if the practitioner feels a movement and that no researches proves the existence of such movement therefore there is a great chance that this movement is induced by the osteopath himself ? Ideomotor effect is a known fact for the explanation of similar deceptive feelings. Thousands of people have been deceived by the ideomotor effect wouldn't it be unreasonable to think that no osteopath could be as well deceived by this effect ?
This could also explain why certain osteopaths believe they can test allergies or intolerance by palpating the cranium of their patients. Themselves or the patient restrain the movement when testing this or that type of allergen.

Something interesting is that osteopaths who don't believe in cranial osteopathy and IVM are under intense criticism because they undermine the profession, but wouldn't it be the opposite that should be true?

Remember that saying that Cranial motion is created by the practitioner doesn't mean that cranial osteopathy is ineffective. he fact that the osteopath himself is the power of the motion doesn't change much about cranial osteopathy.

If we go along with this ideomotor theory then it can explains a lot of researches. Osteopathy will show to be mature enough to be able to introspect and criticise itself. We also remove from the hands of a lot of detractors the stick they are hiting us with. What a great step towards a healthcare profession.