Dr William Garner Sutherland (1873–1954), a student of Dr. A.T. Still’s (Founder of Osteopathy) at the American School of Osteopathy, expanded Osteopathy by discovering, developing and teaching Osteopathy in the Cranial Field in early to mid 1900s.

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Six month baby girl receiving osteopathic or chiropractic treatment in pediatric clinic. M

The Osteopathic Cranial Academy - USA

"Just as the lungs breathe and the heart beats with a rhythmic alternating expansion and contraction, the central nervous system (CNS) also has its own involuntary rhythmic motion. Dr. Sutherland described this inherent activity of the CNS as a respiratory motion with “inhalation” and “exhalation” phases. The hands of a skilled osteopathic physician interact directly with the primary respiratory mechanism to bring about a therapeutic response. Primary respiration is the guiding principle; it is the inherent intelligence within.
This primary respiratory mechanism actually expresses itself through every cell of the body, influencing all body functions. Physicians trained in cranial osteopathy can place their hands on any part of the patient to perceive and influence this important mechanism.



Whilst studying a dis-articulated skull, observing the 22 cranial bones that all intricately inter-lock together, Dr Sutherland was struck by the thought that some of the joints between the cranial bones were “bevelled like the gills of a fish”, indicating that they could be moved in someway by a breathing mechanism.

He dismissed this thought for many years as anatomy texts at the time considered the skull to be fused and immobile by adolescence. As Osteopaths however, we learn that there are no mistakes in nature, anatomical design can indicate its’ functional purpose and so he eventually felt called to pursue his query further. (1)

He spent the next 30 years exploring his theory, the first 10 trying to dis-prove it, and when he could not, he thoroughly investigated, undertaking experiments on his own skull by using various devices, including a specially made helmet to apply pressure and strain to specific cranial bones, observing and recording the effects.(1) He almost lost consciousness in one of his early experiments and as he released the pressure from the helmet, he immediately felt a “sensation of warmth” and a "remarkable movement of fluid up and down the spinal column and through the ventricles and surrounding the brain…and there was also movement of my sacrum” (tailbone). (2) The same experience continued with further testing. This indicated the impact that strains in the head or tailbone can have on the fluctuations of cerebrospinal fluid around the brain and spinal cord and the ripple effect for the rest of the body. 


This also led him to discover the palpable rhythmic fluctuations of the CSF (cerebrospinal fluid), the therapeutic forces within it and to develop over many years the skill to utilise this movement to not only assess for restrictions in his patients but also recruit it as an internal force to assist with the release of those restrictions, amongst other applications.

1.Magoun, H.I.,Osteopathy in the Cranial Field 3rd Ed. The Cranial Academy,1966, USA

2. Sutherland.A.S. "With thinking Fingers", The Cranial Academy, 1962, USA