Craniosacral therapy (CST) is an alternative treatment used by massage therapists, chiropractors, and osteopaths.
It was developed by John Upledger, D.O. in the 1970s, as a form of cranial osteopathy.
CST uses gentle pressure to manipulate the bony structures of the craniosacral system. It is a non-invasive, holistic, hands-on therapy which aims to improve the functioning of the central nervous system and boost the body’s healing capabilities.
It is believed that the gentle touch used in CST affects the circulation of cerebrospinal fluid, i.e. the fluid around the spinal cord and brain, thus relieving dysfunction and pain.
Practitioners who support CST claim that it can be used combined with other therapies or as an individual treatment. On the other hand, critics often call it ‘pseudoscience’ due to lack of scientific evidence that it helps treat cancer or any other disease.
In this article, we explore the craniosacral therapy benefits, uses, and effectiveness, as well as any possible risks.
Uses of Craniosacral Therapy
The craniosacral system covers the area from the cranium to the sacrum and includes the bony structures of the brain, the bones of the vertebral column, the spinal cord, the meninges (the membranes that envelop the brain and spinal cord), and the body’s cerebrospinal fluid.
A CST session lasts from one to two hours. The client lies face up, quietly, and fully clothed, while the practitioner lightly presses selected points around the feet, knees, torso, and head with the fingers. This pressure doesn’t involve any forceful movements or bone manipulation like in the cases of osteopathy or chiropractic work.
The number of CST sessions depends on the individual response to the treatments, as well as on the condition being treated. Some people may feel better after only one session, while others might need up to 3 or even more sessions per week over the course of several weeks.
CST techniques are used by physical therapists, chiropractors, osteopaths and even dentists. In order to be able to practice craniosacral therapy, you need to understand the anatomy of the skeletal and craniosacral system, especially the bones of the spine and head.
Craniosacral therapy is used to help with a number of conditions, both psychological and physical.
Here is a list of all the conditions that can be treated with craniosacral therapy (released by the Upledger Institute):
Autism, Alzheimer’s disease, brain injury, back pain, chronic fatigue disorders of the central nervous system, concussion, colic, dementia immune disorders, fibromyalgia, neck pain, migraines, learning disabilities stress, injuries of the spinal cord, scoliosis, infant and childhood disorders, motor-coordination impairments, ADD/ADHD, learning disabilities orthopedic problems, post-traumatic stress disorder
Benefits of Craniosacral Therapy
In general, CST may help treat and/or alleviate a number of diseases and dysfunctions, including head and neck pain, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, stress, temporomandibular joint, traumas of any kind, hormonal imbalances, seizures, chronic sinusitis, post-surgical recovery, etc. It can also improve the function of the nervous system you could check here, thus making the body more resilient to stress.
Other benefits of CST include:
- Enhanced immune system
- Tension release
- Release of bone and tissue restrictions
- Improved mobility
- Pain alleviation
- Improved energy flow
- Revitalization and relaxation
Are There Any Risks from Craniosacral Therapy?
When practiced respectfully and sensitively by a trained professional, CST can do no harm. However, there are certain situations where CST is not recommended.
- Recent fractures of the skull
- Systemic infections
- Brain stem herniation
- Brain injuries
- Acute aneurysm
- Cerebral hemorrhage
- Preexisting severe bleeding disorders
What Does Research Say?
There are only a few studies on the uses and benefits of craniosacral therapy. Here are some of the findings:
A study from 2007 examined the effects of CST and acupuncture in adults with asthma. It was found that both therapies had beneficial effects when used in conjunction with traditional asthma treatment.
A study from 2009 found that CST may improve the quality of life in people with MS who have lower urinary tract signs and symptoms.
A study conducted in 2010 examined the effects of craniosacral therapy on people with fibromyalgia. The participants received either craniosacral therapy or placebo therapy for twenty weeks. The patients who received CST reported significant pain alleviation.
A 2011 study found that CST may reduce anxiety and improve quality of life in people suffering from this condition.
Where Can You Find a CST Practitioner?
When choosing a CST practitioner, make sure to get references. If you can’t find reliable references, check out online directories including the database of Registered Craniosacral Therapy Practitioners and the Upledger’s International Association of Healthcare Practitioners.
Providers need to be licensed in a particular specialty (physical therapy, chiropractic, massage therapy) for insurance coverage. In some cases, CST is reimbursed under flexible healthcare accounts.