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Understanding Cranio-Sacral Therapy

The Short Version:

I often call this Cranial Bio-Dynamics. There is gentle rhythmic motion of the bones and tissues of the skull and body with the ebb and flow of the cerebrospinal fluid. Restrictions can lead to reduced adaptability to the stresses of life. Craniosacral therapy addresses obstacles to motion, freeing the innate healing energies of the body. Craniosacral therapy to support Autonomic Nervous System health and overall "bodyfield Coherence" is a major part of my naturopathic physical therapy.

See also: Kinesthetic Medicine | FlexAware Fitness | Autonomic Science | New Brain Science | Dr. Porges and the ANS | Help for TMJ | Allergy factors and Craniosacral therapy | AutismHANDLE & Neurodevelopmental Differences | Body Microcircuits | Human Energy Anatomy | Pediatrics | Developmental Movement Therapy | Counseling
What Craniosacral therapy looks like

The Longer Version:

Cranio-Sacral therapy is a powerful integrative therapy. It is one of the most direct ways of assessing and improving the factors that affect the Autonomic Nervous System. A treatment session provides several benefits. The patient's mind gets to monitor what it feels like when the body relaxes and the Autonomic Nervous System is more in control. [See the Three Control Systems description on my internet blog.] This work serves as a very effective way to remove blocks to the efficient motion of cranial fluid and tissues. The result of this is to enhance the motion of the cranial bones and overall body energy. The deep relaxation has been described by some as like being in a deep sleep. What Craniosacral therapy looks like.

Some people have experienced visual or other kinds of insights during this work. "Somato-Emotional Release" is the name given to the way some people experience a letting-go of being controlled by past negative memories. [See below Upledger's Energy Medicine links.]

Trained inDr. Upledger's Approach | Dr. Thom's Approach. See also: Colorado School of Energy Studies (featured in Autonomic Science page) [link].

Demonstrated in China: I demonstrated Craniosacral Therapy when I visited China in 1993.


Also see "Kinesthetic Medicine": Kinesthetic Medicine

When used in an overall program of Integrative Medicine and Biological Dentistry, Cranio-Sacral therapy is a cost-effective treatment that could benefit almost every patient. [see Precautions below]

Note: Many parents have found benefit for their children from craniosacral therapy. I offer craniosacral therapy within the context of integrative medicine because there are always other background factors that need to be assessed and treated.

   “Giving Patients False Hope?” by Dr. John Upledger

Someone recently asked me if I think CranioSacral Therapists give patients false hope. That’s an
excellent question that I’d like to address here.

It is my belief that everyone comes to a particular disease process in a unique way. Therefore, people
with essentially the same diagnostic label may respond very differently to CST.

Given this variation and highly individual response to therapy, we must always assume that it may be
possible to obtain positive results.

While we must remain cautious not to have or to give anyone unrealistic expectations, we should never limit what might be possible.

We simply apply our work to the compensatory mechanisms in the body and observe how the body self-
corrects or rebalances. It is the response of the body that informs our subsequent sessions.

So do we give patients false hope? Not at all. We give them hope.


Note for those who are concerned about criticism of Dr. Upledger: I am aware of the "Quackpots" who criticize approaches they cannot control. Be careful about accepting such incendiary opinions because they are not the result of careful examination and comparison of techniques such as craniosacral therapy. In addition, I have studied other approaches beyond the Upledger model so if you have objections to his model, talk with me about my expanded understanding of Autonomic Nervous System integrity and craniosacral therapy.

I have enjoyed occasionally teaching my workshop on Cranio Bio-Dynamics to healthcare practitioners and some highly motivated non-professionals. When I work with patients I include some of the information I teach in the classes because I believe that everyone should know as much as they can about how their body functions



Definition of Craniosacral Therapy


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, the spine and the sacrum, and ultimately all tissues because "everything is connected to everything else."




According to Upledger: "CranioSacral Therapy is not osteopathy. Sutherland's approach was bone-oriented and you make bony corrections. This is soft tissue-oriented, fluid-oriented, membrane-oriented, and energy-oriented. It's much more subtle than any other kind of cranial work I know of."


He says that 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.


An interesting application: Allergy reactions affect the pressures on the skull and the brain, treating this can improve brain function: The work of Carl Ferreri, D.C., Ph.C.


Description of Craniosacral Therapy



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 that he named craniosacral therapy.


Craniosacral therapy addresses the craniosacral system. This system includes the cranium, spine, and sacrum that 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.


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 in the rate, amplitude, symmetry, and quality of flow of the CSR. A therapist uses very gentle touch to balance the flow of the CSR. Once the cerebrospinal fluid moves freely, the body's natural healing responses can function.


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."


Additional descriptions about craniosacral therapy and its value.



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.


Side effects

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 and 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. Many dentists have found craniosacral therapy to be an effective adjunct to orthodontic work, including Gerald Smith, DDS, the past president of the Holistic Dental Association. However, the conventional medical community has not endorsed these techniques.

Resources and Upledger's integration of "Energy Medicine"


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