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What is Craniosacral Therapy?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 17, 2024
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Craniosacral therapy, sometimes also written as crainio sacral therapy, is a type of bodywork which is focused on the fluids which surround the brain and spinal cord. Using gentle manipulation, a therapist attempts to bring these areas into alignment, intending to release pressure and nerve pain. Proponents of the technique say that patients at all levels of physical ability benefit from receiving craniosacral therapy, while opponents suggest that there is no scientific evidence to support the validity of the effects. Certainly no evidence indicates that the treatment is harmful, and because it is so gentle, it is also appropriate for all ages as a touch therapy.

In the 1930s, an osteopath named William Sutherland laid the groundwork for craniosacral therapy, after working extensively with patients who experienced a wide range of symptoms. He suggested that their problems resulted in an imbalance of the craniosacral system, which runs from the top of the head or cranium all the way down the spine to the sacrum. By performing gentle manipulations of the skull and spine, he claimed to alleviate pain and improve quality of life for his patients. In the late 1970s, John Upledger, another osteopath, refined the technique, and is usually acknowledged as the pioneer of craniosacral therapy as it is practiced today.

During a craniosacral therapy session, the patient lies clothed and face down on a massage table. The therapist gently checks in with the client by using gentle touch to probe the craniosacral system for signs of imbalance and blockage. After the client has been assessed, the client makes subtle adjustments, using very light pressure. The treatment generally lasts approximately one hour, and can be repeated on a regular basis as a prophylactic measure, or as needed. Craniosacral therapy is supposed to alleviate tension, stress, spinal problems, emotional issues, joint problems, chronic pain, fibromyalgia, fatigue, and headaches.

The underlying principle of craniosacral therapy is that the craniosacral system is a conduit for spinal fluid. The fluid moves in a series of pulsations, akin to heartbeats, which therapists call craniosacral pulsations. If the movement of the spinal fluid is interrupted or blocked, it will affect the patient's overall being. The therapist attempts to discover how the fluid moves normally in the patient, and uses gentle pressure on the skull and spine to free the fluid and restore natural body rhythms.

Studies have been conducted on craniosacral therapy to determine what exactly it does to the body, and if therapists can consistently identify craniosacral pulsations. Most studies have concluded that the treatment has no effect on the body, other than to induce relaxation and calm, common side effects of bodywork. Therapists were also unable to be consistent with their peers in distinguishing craniosacral rhythms. Supporters of the therapy argue that patients will not find it effective if they do not believe in it, suggesting that it may only be a placebo treatment.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseGeek researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By burcidi — On Apr 25, 2011

@burcinc-- I go to a licensed massage therapist for craniosacral therapy. I have severe sinusitis and I have benefited from it. I think it's definitely worth trying.

As far as I know, only licensed practitioners can give craniosacral therapy. They just go through a training program and start practicing it.

Some physicians may do it, so can massage therapists, or maybe chiropractors. Just seek out a professional licensed practitioner in your area which lists craniosacral therapy in their list of services.

By burcinc — On Apr 25, 2011

My son is experiencing learning difficulties in school and I heard that craniosacral therapy might be beneficial. I would like to give it a try but have no idea where to start.

I would like to know who does craniosacral therapy and do they need to have a license for it?

By bear78 — On Apr 24, 2011

I really believe that massage, touch therapy and energy therapy can have healing effects.It may just be the effect of relaxation but I don't see any problem with that.

They say that most illnesses and health problems have psychological roots. So using a method like craniosacral therapy will also have healing effects, even if all it does is relax the body and relieve stress. I would like to try it.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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