CranioSacral Therapy

CranioSacral Therapy (CST) is a gentle, hands-on method of evaluating and enhancing the body’s natural healing processes. It has been effective for a wide range of medical problems associated with pain and dysfunction, and is increasingly used as a preventive health measure for its ability to boost the immune system and to maintain overall good health.

CranioSacral Therapy works with the body’s natural healing mechanisms to dissolve the negative effects of stress on the central nervous system and thus the entire body. The CranioSacral System is comprised of the membranes and cerebrospinal fluid that surround and protect the brain and spinal cord. It is commonly believed that some restrictions are caused by physical injuries or emotional traumas that have somehow been stored as blockages in our bodies. Have you ever heard someone who recovered from a car accident say he just never felt the same afterward? A reason for this is that when a body experiences more physical or emotional trauma than it can handle, it begins to compensate, reinforcing the original strain, creating a memory within the body.

“Using a touch generally no heavier than the weight of a nickel, skilled practitioners can monitor the rhythmic flow of cerebrospinal fluid at key body points to pinpoint the source of an obstruction or stress. Once a source has been determined, they can assist the natural movement of the fluid and related soft tissues and membranes to help the body self-correct. This simple action is often all it takes to remove a restriction. Other times, CST may be combined with other complementary therapies to help restore the body to its optimum functioning level.”

CranioSacral Therapy: Benefits

CST is an effective healing modality for a variety of health concerns including:

  • Reduction or elimination of Migraine Headaches
  • Relief from Chronic Neck Pain
  • Calming of Central Nervous System Disorders
  • Relief from Orthopedic Problems
  • Reduction of symptoms from traumatic brain and spinal cord injuries
  • Reduced Chronic Fatigue
  • Relief from emotional difficulties
  • Reduction of stress and tension related concerns
  • Relief from fibromyalgia and other connective tissue disorders
  • Relief from temporomandibular joint syndrome (TMJ)
  • Reduction of symptoms in neurovascular or immune disorders
  • Relief from post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Restored function from post-surgical issues

CranioSacral Therapy: Why It Works

CranioSacral Therapy enhances the body’s natural healing processes. As it boosts the immune system and assists in maintaining overall good health it is being used more and more as a preventive health measure.

The craniosacral system is very finely tuned and when one area is stuck, twisted, scarred or misaligned, the whole of the system is affected. What’s more, the craniosacral system directly influences the nervous system which governs the body’s ability to function optimally both physically and mentally. If one or the other of these systems is thrown out of balance as a result of physical or emotional trauma, the body and brain become compromised and less than optimal in function. As a result of these imbalances, CSF flow slows or reroutes and restrictions and even scar tissue can form.  As humans, we adapt readily but over time we may begin to notice subtle or not so subtle changes in our mental and physical abilities. Interestingly, long ago suffered illness or injury may be found during a session and be the catalyst for unseeingly related problems. Let me give you an example:

I for instance, suffered a severe whiplash injury in the late 80s. Following doctor’s orders, I rested and took anti inflammatories which resulted in a slight decrease in overall discomfort but left me far from recovered. My goal and desire was to heal completely from the injury and return to normal function and this didn’t happen with this remedy. Left to my own devices, I thought physical therapy might help. Unfortunately, by this time my tissues had become so rigid and scarred that physical therapy was only able to slightly increase my range of motion and did little to abate the pain. I sought out craniosacral therapy when I learned of it. During my sessions, I realized connections to significant and very old injuries I sustained as a child…several falls and concussions had compressed my skull and cervical vertebrae leaving them unmoving and unyielding to the strong forces used in physical therapy. As these areas were gently worked, I experienced fear and worry and then finally a release of the emotions and the muscle tissues. It took multiple sessions for me to release all the underlying compression but that first session helped me to regain a greater degree of motion and a significant reduction in pain. To me it was truly a miracle and one I cherish to this day.

So how does the therapist accomplish a task like this? Using an extremely light touch (and working closely with you), therapists can palpate and monitor the rhythmic flow of cerebrospinal fluid at key body points to identify the source of an obstruction, restriction or stress. Once the source is identified, therapists will gently manipulate these restrictions to their release, restoring the flow of CST and allowing your body to self correct. Additionally, because the physiological environment of the brain is highly influenced by the craniosacral system, many integrative processes between the psyche and the body can be discovered and released as well. Clients almost always report feeling freer in body, mind and spirit.

CranioSacral Therapy: History

The CST technique was first conceived in the 1930s by an osteopath named William Sutherland. It was later refined by John Upledger, another osteopath, in the late 70s. Upledger went on to become the name behind Upledger Institute International, a health care resource center that’s now recognized around the world as a leader in comprehensive education programs, advanced treatment options and unique outreach initiatives.

CranioSacral Therapy: FAQs

Craniosacral Therapy (CST) is a is a very gentle, non-invasive touch technique that is built on the foundation that our bodies know how to heal themselves; and that with some assistance, the body can and often will heal itself. The therapy is termed "Craniosacral" because it involves all of the bones of the skull, face and mouth which make up the cranium and extends by a system of hydraulics and membranes to the lower end of the spine or sacrum." The craniosacral system, like the cardiovascular and respiratory systems, provides practitioners with a palpable rhythm that helps them to determine whether or not the body is functioning properly as well as to help "solve problems of pain and dysfunction." The practitioner can "effectively listen" to the body through touch and then induce movement to assist in the release of blocks or restrictions. It is commonly believed that some restrictions are caused by physical injuries or emotional traumas that have somehow been stored as blockages in our bodies. Have you ever heard someone who recovered from a car accident say he just never felt the same afterward? A reason for this is that when a body experiences more physical or emotional trauma than it can handle, it begins to compensate, reinforcing the original strain, creating a memory within the body. Injuries from car accidents, surgeries, sprains and falls, birth complications such as forceps deliveries, etc. are all stored into the body. Emotional events too, can be stored and actually be the true source of pain for many people. Until these stored blocks are released, they can continue to cause pain and possibly even create additional problems. If you can recall an old song about how the "...back bone is connected to the hip bone and the hip bone is connected to the leg bone..." and so on, you will realize that the body is all connected and deeply interwoven. Thus, it is easy to surmise that injuries or traumas that have affected the lower end of your spine may have also affected the cranium (head) system. Likewise, incidents that may have affected the cranium may have also affected the spinal cord and sacrum. For this reason, it important for the whole craniosacral system and the adjacent body parts affecting the system to be evaluated to determine if there is an imbalance -- and to then correct it. Imbalance in the craniosacral system indicates that the brain and spinal cord may not be functioning at their highest capacity.

Within our bodies, there is a membranous pathway, called the dural membrane system. The system begins inside the lining of the head and then extends downward into the lining of the spinal cord and connects to the sacrum. Within this membranous system flows cerebrospinal fluid (CSF). Now it is important to note that all the nerves in the body originate somewhere along this pathway of the dural membrane system. Restrictions (occurring from physical or emotional events) along this pathway may impede the flow of the CSF, thereby causing pain at some point in the body. Additionally, the bones in our bodies move constantly as the CSF is pumped in and out; each bone has its own course of movement. When a particular bone moves off course or does not move at all, that indicates that there is a restriction in the flow of CSF. The motion of this fluid creates a pulse that practitioners call the Craniosacral Rhythm (CSR). The trained Craniosacral practitioner will palpate this rhythm to evaluate the movement of CSF throughout the body as well as to detect any variances or possible restrictions in flow of the CSF. When a restriction or variance change has been found, the therapist will "assist the natural movement of the fluid and related soft tissue to help the body self-correct. This simple action is often all it takes to remove a restriction. Other times, CST may be combined with other complementary therapies to help restore the body to its optimum functioning level." The goal in Craniosacral Therapy is to help the body attain balance and harmony all the way down to the level of the core nervous system. Engaging the core nervous system allows the body to repair and resynchronize itself from physical and emotional trauma whether it was experienced many years ago or as recently as that day. CST is based on a Western medical model, however, some practitioners have found that it can be used effectively in conjunction with some Eastern healing practices.

Craniosacral Therapy is an extremely gentle technique suitable for adults, elderly, children and babies. It has been effective in the treatment of problems such as • Migraine Headaches • Traumatic Brain and Spinal Cord Injuries • Chronic Neck and Back Pain • Sports injuries • Motor Coordination Impairments • Frozen shoulder • Stress, Tension, Emotional and Depression Related Difficulties** • TMJ --Temporal Mandibular Joint Problems • Orthopedic Problems • Chronic Fatigue • Scoliosis • Neurovascular or Immune Disorders • Autism • Post Traumatic Stress Disorder • Fibromyalgia and other Connective Tissue Disorders • Learning Disabilities • Colic • Post-Surgical Dysfunction

The effectiveness of Craniosacral Therapy depends upon a number of factors. First is the client's ability to self-correct and support physiological changes. Second is the ability of the client's hydraulic system to assist in the treatment of correction. Third is practitioner's ability to remove the obstacles present and to activate the craniosacral system. Fourth and perhaps most important is the practitioner's ability to empower the client to become an active participant in his/her healing. It is important to note that Craniosacral Therapy works with the core nervous system and the subconscious. Occasionally emotions come up when dealing with certain and/or painful areas of the body. Your therapist will help you to release these emotions and free up areas of your body for better mental and physical health as well as for better mobility. Emotional releases are termed Somato Emotional Releases (SER).

Anyone who regularly deals with stresses of life can benefit from CST. Like massage or even soaking in a hot tub, CST can help you to attain greater relaxation, balance in the mind and body and a feeling of greater health and well being. It may enable you to completely let go of "that peculiar feeling that just won't leave", or perhaps allow you to feel more comfortable in your own skin and become more in tune with your body. Therapy sessions can "improve resistance to disease, improve brain and spinal cord function, reduce accumulated stress, and work with [your] own natural mechanisms to enhance effectiveness."

When considering this question, please note that most conditions arise gradually over time. It will take time for therapy to work. Give yourself the time you need in order to heal 100%. Initially sessions may be once or twice per week, however all bodies are different. Some people may get complete relief on their first session. Others may require additional treatment --up to three or more per week over the course of several weeks. It really depends on the client and the actual problem that the client is having. Clients with chronic or debilitating situations often require long-term therapy and the frequency of sessions usually reduces over time.

Most people can benefit from regular maintenance as it assists our bodies in remaining mobile and keeps physical symptoms to a minimum. Like cars, our bodies require a certain amount of care if they are expected to work properly. Clients who have experienced chronic or debilitating situations will find that regular maintenance is very helpful.

In the broadest sense, most everyone feels a deep sense of relaxation. It is impossible; however, to predict what you may feel. Each person's perception and sensitivity varies. The highly perceptive client may feel a variety of sensations as the therapist works. A client who is less attuned may find some of the techniques unnoticeable. Many feel as though they have been asleep. Still others experience memories, emotions or physical sensations that can often provide them with specific insight and assist them in making positive life changes. There are even some who don't feel any sensation at the beginning of a session but who then gradually do feel sensation as the session goes on.

Craniosacral Therapy is one of the safest therapeutic forms because of its subtle qualities of touch. It is a completely non-invasive approach. When practiced by a qualified therapist, it is a very safe method.

CST should not be used in situations where a variation and/or slight increase in intracranial pressure would cause instability. Those suffering from cerebral hemorrhage, acute aneurysm, or other bleeding disorders should not be treated with CST.

As the client lies comfortably on the massage table, the therapist will palpate or "listen" to the craniosacral rhythm and engage the tissues of the client's system. He/she will do this by gently placing his/her hands on the client's body in accordance with specific learned techniques. The practitioner will determine where the body is restricted, assist it in becoming more mobile and restore balance. Over the course of a session(s), a sense of connection develops between the client and therapist. The client also becomes aware of his/her own healing mechanisms and begins to assist in his/her own healing. This happens on both a conscious and sub-conscious level. Sessions are often deeply relaxing and can even be emotionally profound. Sometimes the benefits may not seem immediately obvious but become more apparent over time as the body remembers how to relax.

CST sessions generally last between 45 minutes and one hour. Initial sessions usually last longer so that a client history can be taken. Costs range from $40 to $200 per session.

Clients remain fully clothed during Craniosacral Therapy sessions. Most clients feel comfortable removing their shoes.

Interview your potential therapist as you would any practitioner of health. Talk with him/her to find out what his/her attitude and approach is. If you feel that his/her approach is suitable for your needs, then give him/her a try.

CST was developed by osteopathic physician John E. Upledger, D.O., O.M.M. The work developed by Dr. Upledger was based on the theories of William Sutherland, an osteopath who discovered intrinsic movements of the bones of a skull in the early 1900s. The movements were found to be measurable with scientific equipment. Additional research developments showed that this movement or rhythm was tied to physical and emotional health. Dr. Upledger began his research on CST in the 1970s and has since compiled extensive clinical applications. For more information see the book Your Inner Physician and You, John E. Upledger, North Atlantic Books and The Upledger Institute, 1991.

For some children, birth can be traumatic. As a baby makes its way through it's mother's narrow birth canal it may experience some compression on the skull. Obstetricians prepare new parents by letting them know that their new baby's head may be cone shaped upon birth and that the skull will right itself on its own. In most cases it the skull does self correct. Unfortunately, however, the tight squeeze through the birth canal can sometimes cause an imbalance in the baby's system whereby the baby may experience difficulty sucking, have respiratory or colic problems. This can happen even in normal deliveries. Some believe that problems stemming from birth may actually be the original cause of back pain, migraine headaches, sinusitis, and depression. CST is wonderfully effective on newborns and children. Early treatment by a skilled Craniosacral Therapist can sometimes cure problems of birth trauma and even be helpful in the prevention of future problems. The gentle nature of the treatment puts children at ease and is usually a wonderful experience for all involved. After all one of the most beautiful and rewarding experiences in life is to raise a happy and healthy child. CST can be used to address infantile disorders, autism, cerebral palsy, chronic ear infections, learning disabilities and more.

Many of you may be familiar with Temporal Mandibular Joint (TMJ) problems but you may not be aware that these problems can cause undue stresses onto the bones of the skull. TMJ and bite alignment problems can sometimes cause the bones of the skull to move, thus affecting the craniosacral system. As we discussed earlier, stress or movement on the skull bones can often be the cause of referred pain or reduced flexibility anywhere along the dural pathway. As this problem occurs, the body takes compensatory measures and one seemingly small problem may ultimately become the cause of multiple problems throughout the body. Interestingly enough, asymmetries of the face and even facial expressions have been linked with an imbalance of the skull and jaw. Again, please note that a whole body evaluation is necessary to determine whether or not TMJ is the cause or effect of a certain problem occurring in the body.