Cranial Sacral Therapy

While there are many medical treatments to enhance physiological and biological functions of the body, some are naturally more invasive than others. In these modern times, many individuals are seeking alternative treatments to alleviate such conditions as stress, anxiety and help prevent or reverse the onset of certain diseases. Although there are currently a wide variety of such therapies available, one common thread amongst them all is the attempt in whole or in part to re-establish the body’s natural energy flow through external manipulation. One such approach is what is known as cranial sacral therapy. To appreciate how this process purportedly works, let us begin by examining the therapy behind this practice in relation to the physiology of the skull.

The Structure of the Skull

As the name denotes, this type of cranial therapy is directly related to the structure and the function of the skull itself. Also known as cranial osteopathy, the treatment is focused on using a specific touch to manipulate what are known as the synathrodial joints of the skull. These are the “squiggly” lines that can be seen on the cranial area of a skull. In fact, these are actually joints that permit little to no movement under normal circumstances and remain as evidence of the bones having ceased growing and fused as a person ages. These are the very same joints of the skull that must be paid careful attention to in infants, for their bones have not completely come together until late adolescence.

The History and Basis of Craniosacral Therapy

In the 1970′s a doctor by the name of John Upledger observed that the human brain makes a natural “pulsating” movement that is completely independent of normal respiration. These cycles are roughly ten to fourteen pulses per minute. Basing his interpretations partly on the previous work of William Garner Sutherland in the 1930′s, Upledger proposed that these pulsations can actually be felt by the fingertips of a trained practitioner. He further claimed that certain illnesses can be diagnosed by carefully detecting aberrations in this normal cyclic rhythm. These disruptions are viewed as an improper flow of the cerebrospinal fluid to the brain and central nervous system. Systemic pains and other irregularities can also be caused by this abnormal pattern. Thus, a craniosacral therapist will gently manipulate the bones of the skull in an attempt to alleviate conditions of a disease or ailment.

The Method of Treatment

When a patient enters a session, he or she is generally asked to lie down while a therapist places their hands upon their body in an attempt to become “in tune” with the individual’s physiology. This process is known as entrainment. Thereafter, the therapist will gently manipulate the cranial bones with a light touch (a general rule is no more than five grams of pressure, or about the weight of a United States nickel). The patient frequently will report sensations of extreme relaxation during and after the process. Some may even experience a lightheaded sensation, so they are generally asked to remain calm for ten to fifteen minutes after the procedure is complete.

Claims of Cranial Osteopathy

One of the main claims that these therapists make is that by a trained and light touch, any impedance within the central nervous system can be corrected; thus establishing the optimum flow of cerebrospinal fluid. Due to this and other systemic effects, practitioners also state that many additional systemic ailments can be counteracted. Such diseases include but are not limited to:

  • Headaches
  • Neck and back pain
  • TMJ dysfunction
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Eye problems
  • Attention deficit disorder

As this treatment is said to involve a more “gentle facilitation” of the body’s “inertial patterning”, the intention is more to give the body a “boost” to help it realign itself as opposed to produce an immediate and discreet cure for the aforementioned ailments. This is one of the reasons that this holistic approach is doubted by some and lauded by others. While the practitioners themselves must be highly trained and possess either a DO or an MD and be a member of the Craniosacral Therapy Association (pertinent to the United States and the United Kingdom), there is nonetheless a great deal of evidence that this type of cranial therapy is more fantasy than fact.

Differing Views of Skeptics

Many of the claims made by individual therapists and the Craniosacral Therapy Association have been refuted by the bulk of the medical community. The first main criticism is the fact that from a physiological perspective the movement of the intracranial fluid is actually determined by four different internal factors: arterial blood, brain volume, venous blood (blood from the veins) and cerebrospinal fluid. Therefore, the claim that manipulating the plates of the skull itself will have little effect on inducing any systemic changes.

Secondly, there is an ongoing debate in regards of the mobility of these individual plates. While they will normally be mobile until middle adolescence, some scientists have found that they are all but completely immobile by middle age. Thus, any so-called manipulation of these joints is called into question. However, other studies have found that they will maintain a slight flexibility until old age.

Finally, one of the strongest criticisms revolves around the reported clinical effects. The medical community states that any of the alleviating symptoms induced by the craniosacral therapist is associated by a natural, but temporary, release of endorphins. Also, there may be psychological bias involved with the patient expecting to achieve a certain outcome. While there is very little wrong with such an emotional state, the claims that craniosacral therapy have cured diseases have not been substantiated.

Nonetheless, it should be noted that very few clinical studies have been done to conclusively determine as to whether this type of therapy is conducive to sustained and measurable results. It is therefore unwise to draw any solid conclusions as to the efficacy of this treatment. However, the results experienced by many are quite palpable and serve to justify this form of controversial treatment.