For those parents who have lived through having an infant with colic, you know how truly devastating it is to see your baby crying in obvious pain and being told there is nothing that can be done. You ask Dr. Google. You speak to anyone with children. You search high and low for answers and all you ever come back with is gripe water and cuddles, neither of which really works very well.
What if I told you that in my physiotherapy practice and personal life I have successfully treated babies with colic? You would probably, like most people, tell me that I’m just making that up and raising false hopes. And I wouldn’t blame you. After all, every single source that I have ever seen states that the cause of colic is unknown and there is no known treatment with any proven track record, but bear with me while I tell you my story.
My journey of discovery began while taking care of a friend’s two month old baby one day. The little one was to be spending the night with us. Before leaving, his mother apologized profusely for the terrible sleepless night we were about to endure. Having been already forewarned, we assured her that we would survive one night. She told us that he started to get really fussy after his afternoon feed at about 1:00 and that it then worsened through the rest of the day and into the night. Armed with the knowledge that there were two of us and one small baby, we figured we could tough it out.
Around noon I had to change his diaper. In the process I noticed two things. First of all, when he lay on his back he was slightly bent to one side like a banana, and even when he moved this bend stayed there consistently. Secondly I noticed that when he kicked his legs (and that’s pretty much all babies at that age do all day) something peculiar happened. When he kicked his right leg everything was fine, but when he kicked his left leg his entire pelvis and lower abdomen twisted significantly. The first thought that entered my mind was, “Well that can’t be good for digestion!”
Being a physiotherapist with never-ending curiosity, I wondered if freeing his hip could improve his colic. If you knew me, you would not be surprised that I would entertain the possibility that I could achieve something when no one else has to date. Just to be clear, this is not arrogance. This is just me constantly asking questions, seeking answers, and challenging existing theories. I can’t help myself – it’s in my blood, and as a happy coincidence I think it is what makes a good clinician.
After clearing things with mom, I started to treat the little boy. What I discovered is that his entire left side (the short side of the banana) from the hip to the shoulder was quite tight. I gently released tight muscles, skin, and connective tissue (this is the matrix that surrounds and holds things like muscles and organs in place) on that side. It didn’t appear to cause him any discomfort as he didn’t cry or fuss at any point. After about ten minutes I stopped and looked at him. He was no longer a banana and when he kicked his left leg it no longer caused his pelvis and lower abdomen to twist. I was happy that he was looking and moving more symmetrically, but to be honest I was still pretty skeptical that it would change his symptoms of colic.
At 1:00 I gave him his bottle, which he took happily. We proceeded with our day anticipating crying at any moment. When supper time arrived and he still seemed content I was convinced it was just a lucky coincidence. The true test, I figured, would come at bedtime. He carried on his merry way comfortably, slept some, and then had his last bottle at 11:00 in the evening. We tucked in fully expecting to be woken. Miraculously we woke up at 6:00 in the morning when he cooed happily from his bassinette.
What the heck just happened? Did that REALLY work? If I thought I was dumbfounded, I had nothing on his mother when she came to pick him up. She was already apologizing for our lack of sleep before I had the front door fully open. I told her we had all slept peacefully for a seven hour stretch and that he had been happy during his entire stay. Her first reaction was to tell us to keep him at our house, as there was clearly something magical in the air. I laughed and explained what I think happened.
Now having successfully treated many babies with colic, I believe that it is caused by tightness in one side of the body, which in turn is likely caused by position in utero. Every single baby I have seen with colic has two things in common – they have one shortened side like a banana that is most noticeable when lying on the back, and when kicking the leg on the shortened side the pelvis and lower abdomen twists significantly. By freeing the tightness on the short side, the pull on the abdomen (and thus the intestines) is released. In other words, I believe that colic is caused by a mechanical problem where a perfectly normal movement (kicking a leg) causes something abnormal to happen (twisting of the intestines).
Why hasn’t anyone figured this out before? That I can’t answer, but I can tell you that I have a 100% success rate in the babies I have treated with colic, most times with a single treatment. The caveat here is that there haven’t been hundreds, so in some ways I am still testing my theory. However, I feel I can offer some (NOT false) hope in an otherwise seemingly hopeless situation.
If you know someone who has a baby suffering from colic, please share this blog. I am hoping to be able to be of help in a very difficult situation for these families.