History of Osteopathy in the Cranial Field

William Garner Sutherland, DO (1873-1954), discovered, developed and taught Cranial Osteopathy in the early to mid-1900s. Dr. Sutherland referred to his discovery as “Osteopathy in the Cranial Field” (OCF). He never failed to emphasize that the Cranial Concept was only an extension of, not separate from, Dr. Still’s science of osteopathy. Dr. Sutherland was the first to perceive a subtle palpable movement within the bones of the cranium. He went on to discover the continuity of this rhythmic fluid movement throughout all tissues of the body. While a student at the American School of Osteopathy in 1899, Dr. Sutherland pondered the fine details of a separated or “disarticulated” skull. He wondered about the function of this complex architecture. Dr. Still taught that every structure exists because it performs a particular function. While looking at a temporal bone, a flash of inspiration struck Dr. Sutherland: “Beveled like the gills of a fish, indicating respiratory motion for an articular mechanism.”

Anatomy textbooks stated that the cranial sutures were fused and unable to move in adulthood. Dr. Sutherland thought his inspiration to be absurd and resisted the notion that the skull bones could move. This idea consumed him and became the motivation for his singular, detailed and prolonged study of skulls and function of the nervous system, and experimentation upon his own head. Over many years of intense study, Dr. Sutherland came to discover a previously unrecognized phenomenon. The anatomy had been described by others, but it took the unique genius of Dr. Sutherland to put it all together. He named his discovery “The Primary Respiratory Mechanism” and recognized this phenomenon as life’s purest and most vital expression. As data is gathered throughout the medical and scientific disciplines, the fundamental genius of Dr. Sutherland’s observations becomes ever more validated. In time, this Cranial Concept may become regarded as one of the most important discoveries in human physiology.