Since complications during his birth, Caleb Sedeman (12) of Cape Town has always struggled with low muscle tone, a speech impediment, epilepsy and ADHD. He also has a very high pain threshold which means he doesn’t always realise when he hurts himself. But his mom, Celestia, says osteopathy has worked wonders for her son.
“Hours after Caleb and I were released from the hospital following his birth, we were readmitted to the ICU unit at the Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital,” recalls Celestia. “He was treated for apnoea [temporary inability to breathe] and acute tubular necrosis [damaged kidney tissue caused by lack of oxygen], and he was struggling to feed like a newborn or pass any urine. We stayed there for three weeks and the doctors were amazed that he was still alive.”
Today Celestia and Caleb’s lives consist of a range of regular therapies in order for Caleb to be able to function normally. These include occupational therapy, speech therapy and regular visits to a neurologist. Celestia’s mom helps her with this busy schedule. “My mom is always reading up and trying to find new ways of helping him – that’s when she came across a book on women who had difficult births, and they suggested cranial osteopathy for helping children recover from traumatic births.”
Caleb has received four therapy sessions by Cape Town osteopath Dr Guy Ashburner in the past six weeks. Celestia recalls their first visit: “We had no idea what to expect! He asked a lot of questions relating to Caleb’s birth, his milestones and development. Then he started by slowly massaging Caleb’s head, neck, back and arms. It looked like the usual massage therapy but something happened to Caleb. After the session he was very relaxed!
“My mom and I could see immediate improvement in Caleb.” She says during dinner that same night, Caleb asked everyone to speak one at a time so he could keep his eyes closed and guess whose voice he was hearing. “He said it was because he didn’t hear the usual humming in his ears that he wanted to try it. He also started using his left hand and foot which he struggled to use before because of low muscle tone,” Celestia says.
She says Dr Ashburner also gave Caleb some exercises to do at home which would improve his balance and coordination. “The changes we saw then are small when compared to how he has changed now. He no longer falls over his own feet while playing ball, he rides his bicycle and enjoys being a boy his age. He has a sparkle in his eyes that hasn’t been there before!”
She adds that he also interacts with his family more, takes part in conversations and is more in touch with his emotions. “He makes eye contact when he speaks to you, which he never did before. He is more aware of what is happening to him and around him.”
What is osteopathy?
Dr Ashburner explains that although osteopathy is considered an alternative therapy, all osteopaths have to complete a four- or five-year degree before practising. “Osteopaths have a solid background in anatomy, physiology, neurology, orthopaedics, pathology, diagnosis, biomechanics, clinical skills and paediatrics, which provides them with essential diagnostic skills and gives the treatment they provide a sound medical basis,” he says.
Osteopathy is a hands-on therapy that focuses on the musculoskeletal system and doesn’t involve surgery or medication. It can involve massage and exercises and because the approach is holistic, an osteopath may offer advice on posture, diet, lifestyle and stress.
“It’s aimed at restoring the normal structure of the musculoskeletal system, the basic structure of the body, which in turn improves the function of nerves, the circulatory system and immune system, assisting the body to heal faster,” says Dr Ashburner.
He explains an important aspect of the therapy is it doesn’t just look at symptoms, but at underlying causes of a problematic condition. “Osteopaths believe the symptoms often hide the underlying cause of the disease and it’s only by treating the cause that you can heal.”
Why did it work so well for Caleb?
“His treatment involved subtle osteopathic techniques which encouraged normal mobility of his neck, head and spine. As a result, it also helped the associated nervous, lymphatic and circulatory systems,” says Dr Ashburner.
He says Caleb’s change from hardly ever speaking to someone who communicates readily while making eye contact could be a result of the treatment of the junction between his skull and neck where the nerves used by the tongue reside. “It’s about treating the basic structure where the problem lies.”
Who can benefit from osteopathy?
Osteopathy is similar to physiotherapy and chiropracty but takes a more holistic approach. “Osteopaths, chiropractors and physiotherapists treat the same conditions with different approaches. If you think you might need to see a physiotherapist or chiropractor, an osteopath could probably also help you,” says Dr Ashburner.
He adds osteopathy could also be helpful in treating:
- Neck and joint pain;
- Joint stiffness;
- Headaches and migraines;
- Knee, hip and ankle arthritic pain;
- Cramps or muscle spasms;
- Trapped nerves;
- Neuralgia [pain in the distribution of a nerve] and bursitis [inflammation of a bursa, the fluid-filled sac between joints].
He adds even babies with chronic ear infections, colic and chest infections as well as women experiencing pain during pregnancy can benefit.
It can also be combined with other therapies or treatments such as surgery, medication or X-rays, says Dr Ashburner. “Immediate pain relief is an important consideration, but the aim of osteopathy is to get patients well and keep them well.”