Craniosacral therapy is a holistic healing practice that uses very light touching to balance the craniosacral system in the body, which includes the bones, nerves, fluids, and connective tissues of the cranium and spinal area.
The first written reference to the movement of the spinal nerves and its importance in life, clarity, and "bringing quiet to the heart" is found in a 4,000-year-old text from China. Craniosacral work was referred to as "the art of listening." Bone setters in the Middle Ages also sensed the subtle movements of the body. They used these movements to help reset fractures and dislocations and to treat headaches.
In the early 1900s, the research of Dr. William Sutherland, an American osteopathic physician, detailed the movement of the cranium and pelvis. Before his research it was believed that the cranium was a solid immovable mass. Sutherland reported that the skull is actually made up of 22 separate and movable bones that are connected by layers of tissue. He called his work cranial osteopathy. Nephi Cotton, an American chiropractor and contemporary of Sutherland, called this approach craniology. The graduates of these two disciplines have refined and enhanced these original approaches and renamed their work as sacro-occipital technique, cranial movement therapy, or craniosacral therapy.
Dr. John Upledger, an osteopathic physician, and others at the Department of Biomechanics at Michigan State University, College of Osteopathic Medicine learned of Sutherland's research and developed it further. He researched the clinical observations of various osteopathic physicians. This research provided the basis for Upledger's work which he named craniosacral therapy.
According to Upledger, craniosacral therapy is ideally suited for attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, headaches, chronic middle ear infection, pain, and general health maintenance. It is recommended for autism, fibromyalgia, heart disease, osteoarthritis, pneumonia, rheumatoid arthritis, chronic sinus infections, and gastroenteritis (inflammation of the lining of the stomach or small intestine). It is also used with other therapies to treat chronic fatigue syndrome, back pain, and menstrual irregularity. In addition, other craniosacral practitioners have reported benefits for eye dysfunction, dyslexia, depression, motor coordination difficulties, temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMD), hyperactivity, colic, asthma in babies, floppy baby syndrome, whiplash, cerebral palsy, certain birth defects, and other central nervous system disorders.
Craniosacral therapy addresses the craniosacral system. This system includes the cranium, spine, and sacrum which are connected by a continuous membrane of connective tissue deep inside the body, called the dura mater. The dura mater also encloses the brain and the central nervous system. Sutherland noticed that cerebral spinal fluid rises and falls within the compartment of the dura mata. He called this movement the primary respiratory impulse; today it is known as the craniosacral rhythm (CSR) or the cranial wave.
WILLIAM SUTHERLAND 1873–1954
William Garner Sutherland studied osteopathy under its founder, Andrew Taylor Still. Dr. Sutherland made his own important discovery while examining the sutures of cranial bones the skull bones that protect the brain. What he noticed is that the sutures were designed for motion. Sutherland termed this motion the Breath of Life. Through his experiments and research he determined that primary respiration was essential to all other physiological functions.
When Sutherland developed his techniques for craniosacral therapy, he wanted it to serve as a vehicle for listening to the body's rhythmic motions, and treat the patterns of inertia, when those motions become congested. He believed that the stresses—any trauma either physical or emotional—created an imbalance in the body that needed correction to restore it to full health. The therapy is a hands-on method so that the therapist can feel the subtleties of the patterns of movement and inertia. Sutherland felt that this was the way to encourage self-healing and restoration of the body's own mechanisms, taking a holistic approach to creating optimal health.
The Craniosacral Therapy Educational Trust, based on Sutherland's pioneering work is located at 10 Normington Close, Leigham Court Road, London SW16 2QS, United Kingdom. Phone number is 07000 785778.
Craniosacral therapists can most easily feel the CSR in the body by lightly touching the base of the skull or the sacrum. During a session they feel for disturbances
A craniosacral session generally lasts 30–90 minutes. The client remains fully clothed and lays down on a massage table while the therapist gently assesses the flow of the CSR. Upledger describes several techniques which may be used in a craniosacral therapy session. The first is energy cyst release. "This technique is a hands-on method of releasing foreign or disruptive energies from the patient's body. Energy cysts may cause the disruption of the tissues and organs were they are located." The therapist feels these cysts in the client's body and gently releases the blockage of energy.
Sutherland first wrote about a second practice called direction of energy. In this technique the therapist intends energy to pass from one of his hands, through the patient, into the other hand.
The third technique is called myofascial release. This is a manipulative form of bodywork that releases tension in the fascia or connective tissue of the body. This form of bodywork uses stronger touch.
Upledger's fourth technique is position of release. This involves following the client's body into the positions in which an injury occurred and holding it there. When the rhythm of the CSR suddenly stops the therapist knows that the trauma has been released.
The last technique is somatoemotional release. This technique was developed by Upledger and is an offshoot of craniosacral therapy. It is used to release the mind and body of the residual effects of trauma and injury that are "locked in the tissues."
The cost of a session varies due to the length of time needed and the qualifications of the therapist. The cost may be covered by insurance when the therapy is performed or prescribed by a licensed health care provider.
This gentle approach is extremely safe in most cases. However, craniosacral therapy is not recommended in cases of acute systemic infections, recent skull fracture, intracranial hemorrhage or aneurysm, or herniation of the medulla oblongata (brain stem). Craniosacral therapy does not preclude the use of other medical approaches.
Some people may experience mild discomfort after a treatment. This may be due to re-experiencing a trauma or injury or a previously numb area may come back to life and be more sensitive. These side effects are temporary.
Research & general acceptance
More than 40 scientific papers have been published that document the various effects of craniosacral therapy. There are also 10 authoritative textbooks on this therapy. The most notable scientific papers include Viola M. Fryman's work documenting the successful treatment of 1,250 newborn children with birth defects. Edna Lay and Stephen Blood showed the effects on TMD, and John Wood documented results with psychiatric disorders. The American Dental Association has found craniosacral therapy to be an effective adjunct to orthodontic work. However, the conventional medical community has not endorsed these techniques.
Training & certification
Craniosacral therapy is offered as part of the standard training in osteopathy, chiropractic, and rolfing. Massage therapists, nurses, dentists, physical therapists, and other health care practitioners can receive training through a series of workshops and seminars. The Upledger Institute offers two levels of national certification, involving a rigorous three part exam process of written, oral, and hands-on testing. The Milne Institute certifies practitioners through a two year training program that covers anatomy, physiology, symptomatology, psychology, meditation practice, and training in sensitivity, perception and intuition. Today there are around 40,000 practitioners certified to practice crainiosacral therapy.
Knaster, Mirka. Discovering the Body's Wisdom. New York: Bantam Books, 1996.
Milne, Hugh. Heart of Listening: A Visionary Approach to Craniosacral Work: Anatomy. Technique, Transcendence. 2nd ed. Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books, 1998.
Upledger, John E. "CranioSacral Therapy." In Clinician's Complete Reference to Complementary and Alternative Medicine. Donald Novey, ed. St. Louis, MO: 2000.
Upledger, John E. Your Inner Physician and You: CranioSacral Therapy Somatoemotional Release. Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books, 1991.
Upledger, John E. and John Vredevoogd. Craniosacral Therapy. Seattle: Eastland Press, 1983.
Milne Institute Inc. P.O. Box 2716, Monterey, CA 93942-2716. (831) 649-1825. Fax: (831) 649-1826. http://www.milneinstitute.com. firstname.lastname@example.org.
Upledger Institute. 11211 Prosperity Farms Road, Palm Beach Gardens, FL 33410. (800) 233-5880. Fax: (561) 622-4771. http://www.upledger.com.
Milne, Hugh. A Client's Introduction to Craniosacral Work. Pamphlet. Milne Institute.