Sinal Salute

The human skull is a pretty amazing thing. One of the bits of Anatomy class I enjoyed most while having to memorize the bones was getting to explore what’s called an ‘exploded’ human skull, which is one that’s been taken apart into it’s various parts. The skull, no matter what you might have learned in your elementary science classes, is not a single bone. The temporal, occipital, vomer, parietal, sphenoid, ethmoid… a total of twenty-two bones out of the 206 (approximately, but that’s not what this blog is about) in our body. Most of those bones are fused together shortly after birth, and the sutures where the edges meet continue to harden and fill in through childhood.

Which brings me to this morning, pressing my fingertips against the sides of my nose. The maxilla, nasal, and lacrimal bones have sutures there, and even though I’m old enough my bones are fully ossified, I still would swear that pressure against them, right over the weird holes in our head we call sinuses, actually pressed in and moved the sludge in my sinuses around enough to give some relief. Maybe it’s all in my head…

Snot is a non-Newtonian fluid. Like slug slime, it has some properties of a crystal, and some of a liquid. Which means that it clings. Up in the warm, moist, often oddly shaped sinuses, I’ve got stalagmites and stalactites of snot quivering gently, and eventually filling up to the point where I can feel the pressure through the bones in my head. And in that fertile proteinaceous mass, bacteria is reproducing happily, fulfilling the ultimate mandate to be fruitful and multiply.

I’m left with a dilemma, then: do I relieve the pressure on my facial bones by taking a decongestant? Or do I try to keep the bacterial colonies down to small villages and towns by allowing my snot to thin and flush while I got through box after box of tissues? If I let it dry up so I can breathe, those will urbanize until I’ve got the sewers of NYC up my nose. Bleah.

Snot, the immune system’s equivalent to a violent storm system flushing out the tunnels where mutated rats and alligators lurk.

So why do we have sinuses again?

Well, without your sinuses, you wouldn’t have those lovely portraits of swan-necked ladies. That graceful column would be a lot more muscular over a heavier spine and vertebral system, because our heads would be heavier. We’d no longer have pencil-necked geeks, and being a no-neck would be normal, not stereotyped as thuggish. But more important than changing what our voices sound like, both to ourselves and others, is the production of snot. While the mucus is annoying at the height of a cold like the one I have, and yes, it’s a great culture medium for bacteria, it’s purpose is to trap and flush out any detritus that finds it’s way up our nose. Along with the sneeze reflex, and watering eyes, mucus keeps the body free from invaders by, well, sheer grossness. I mean, imagine a castle where when you tried to breach the walls, you got buckets of slime poured on you until you lost your grip and were washed away? Eww….

S’cuse me while I go blow my nose again.


12 responses to “Sinal Salute”

  1. Oh, I love this, and I’m laughing hard as I’m also sneezing and blowing my nose due to the cold I woke up with this morning!

    1. I’m happy I made you laugh in spite of the cold! Feel better soon. I’m going to make spicy Thom Kha Gai when I get home and really flush my sinuses out!

  2. As it happens, the skull sutures don’t fully ossify except in disease processes. The normal adult skull, the plates move. That’s why the sinal salute works. You move the temporal bone and it bends the sinuses a little. That’s enough to change the internal pressure and get snot moving out of those spaces.

    There’s a whole branch of PT called Cranio-sacral therapy. It can be a little woo-woo at times, but the foundation of it is the movement of the dura, the sacrum, and the skull. Pretty cool stuff, and it works wonders with autism, of all things. Your Aspergers kids very often have parts of the dura mater bound up with fascial tightness, a bit of pulling and bending, it straightens right out. It doesn’t make the Aspergers go away of course, but the kid feels a lot better and moves a lot better.

    1. I need to know more about this therapy that helps people with autism. Youngest daughter is autistic (among other things — she has a bunch of auto-immune things going on). When she was still pretty young (maybe four to six) a doctor told me that the reason she has a big gap between her two front teeth is that her skull didn’t fuse properly; he thought she had some kind of medical syndrome, but wasn’t sure which one. I do know that she likes having her scalp rubbed.

      1. The maxilla, the bone that makes up the upper jaw, does form in two parts and fuse. I have no idea what he meant by a syndrome, I’d have to look that up.

        1. There are so many different syndromes that I’ve never tried to figure out what it might be. I wasn’t sure that it would make any difference to know, anyway.

      2. Cranial-Sacral therapy works by removing restrictions in the movement of the head bones as the cerebrospinal fluid goes through its pressure cycle. The skull goes through a movement cycle as the CSF moves around in the brain. If one or more of the plates get stuck, the pressure changes. This can give headaches, irritability, etc. and you have a cranky kid that doesn’t feel well.

        The brain has a “bag” around it to contain the CSF. The bag is also supposed to move. The bag is called the dura mater, it is continuous all the way from the brain, down the spine to the bottom of the sacrum. If it gets stuck somewhere, pressure changes can also occur. Its basically pulling on your brain, which isn’t optimal.

        Autism/Aspergers is hard enough to deal with. Add cranky on top, that’s bad news.

        For a kid with some skull-shape issues, cranio-sacral therapy might be beneficial. Minimally the child will likely feel better. Potentially, you might see functional performance improvements. Fairly common to see that sort of improvement.

        Obviously I can’t tell you “This will be GREAT!” because there’s no way I could know that. But, if you find a therapist who knows what they’re doing, it will likely be money well spent.

        I have a Masters in PT, I used to do Cranial Sacral and Myofascial Release therapies a lot with my neuro patients. Sometimes the patients got amazing improvement, occasionally it was a waste of time. I also hasten to add that not all therapists are created equal. There are people out there SO much better than I am. The amount of stuff to know is sobering, to say the least.

        Aspergers is not something that goes away, I’m 61 and its still there. But really, who cares? You can have a good life anyway. The weird brain comes in handy sometimes.

    2. So it totally makes sense that I was squishing my snot around. I was thinking the sutures fused with age.

      1. Yeah, the sutures were assumed to fuse, and lots of medical people will still tell you that. But while they are knitted closely together, they don’t calcify shut.

        Interesting and gross datum: When they want to disarticulate skulls for examination, they let maggots eat them for a while until the bones are completely clean. Then they pour dry rice in through the foramen magnum (spine hole) and add water. The slowly expanding rice separates the sutures without breaking anything.

        You can add that to the pile of useless knowledge you don’t get paid for. ~:D

  3. As I sniff, sneeze, cough, and blow my nose, I find your missive informative yet oddly without relief. Then again, it was hard to read with watery eyes

    Humorously, I accidentally typed noise for nose. Yet truly, it was a more apt description.

  4. Oooh, that skull-morphy-thingee is *gorgeous*.

    Try putting pressure across your upper lip. This often makes the nasal passages open right up, followed by the sinuses. I think the effect is basically a local change in blood pressure (incidentally, perpetually slighty-stuffy nose is a symptom of blood pressure over about 130/nn, which in turn is usually due to low thyroid).

    1. Thank you! The art is mine, done in a fractal program with some postprocessing.