Cranial Osteopathy


William Garner Sutherland, DO, was a student of Dr. Still’s at the American School of Osteopathy. It was during this time that he was struck by the thought that the shape of the interfaces between the cranial bones were beveled like the gills of a fish, indicating that they were moved by a respiratory, or breathing, mechanism. He spent the next 30 years trying to disprove his theory by experiments on his own body. What he discovered was an unknown level of physiologic function within the living human being, which he named the “Primary Respiratory Mechanism” (PRM). The proper function of this PRM is of fundamental importance, not only in the physiology of growth and development, but also in the physiology of healing.

Although the development of Dr. Sutherland’s cranial concept was based upon his own observations and experiences, he was clear that it was still an expression of Dr. Still’s philosophy and “in no way an idea apart” from the science of Osteopathy. In 1929, at 56 years of age, Dr. Sutherland introduced his cranial concept to the Osteopathic profession. “I do not consider this contribution of thought mine – I call it a guided thought”.

Dr. Sutherland described different aspects of the PRM, including the motility of the Neural Tube, the mobility of the cranial membranes and bones, and a core link between the cranium and sacrum that coordinated their motion. He identified the  fluctuation of the cerebrospinal fluid as the first and most fundamental principle of this mechanism. Within it, he had found a potency, an invisible fluid within the fluid, that had Intelligence. This Tide, containing what Dr. Still called the “highest known element”, was of central importance in the cranial concept. Dr. Sutherland called this invisible element the “Breath of Life”. He observed that when the CSF fluctuation was brought to a short rhythmic period of fluctuation, a stillness was revealed at the center of the Tide, and a transmutative process unfolded in which the Breath of Life nourished every cell in the body.

These experiences lead Dr. Sutherland to develop a tremendous respect for what the Tide could accomplish. He encouraged the Osteopath to trust the Tide’s unerring potency rather than applying a “blind force from without”, allowing its wisdom to make available to the patient any and all of the chemicals in “God’s drug store”, as Dr. Still had called the Living Human Body. For Dr. Sutherland, Osteopathic practice was a “non-incisive surgical art” that could secure balance in the natural laws operating within the patient, “not mere manuipulative therapy”.

“To the digger who will take the time to dream and the dreamer who will wake up and dig, the science of Osteopathy will unfold into a magnitude equal to that of the heavens.”.