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What is Craniosacral Therapy?

anxiety bodywork craniosacral therapy digestion headaches migraine neck pain stress Oct 26, 2021

One of the most powerful therapies I have used throughout the years is a hands-on technique called Craniosacral therapy (CST).  I love it because it is so gentle, yet can create profound change.  While much of what I do with patients is based on data and objective analysis, CST allows your body to relax and heal in a deeper, more intuitive way. I have been certified as a Craniosacral Therapy practitioner since 1999, and have found it to be useful in my practice for a wide range of physical and mental imbalances.  This article is to help you understand more about what craniosacral therapy is, how it works, and how I use it in my practice.

What is Craniosacral therapy?

Craniosacral therapy was developed in the 1970’s by John Upledger, who was an Osteopathic physician. The practice of CST starts with a part of the body called the cerebrospinal fluid, or CSF.  This fluid surrounds the brain and spinal cord and acts as a cushion to protect your central nervous system.  It is produced in a part of your brain called the ventricles, and it is slowly pushed out and brought back into this part of your brain.  This motion makes a very gentle type of pulsation that can be felt by the CST practitioner.

When a wave travels through the ocean, if it comes into contact with a boat or a dock the wave will be disrupted.  Similarly, if there is any sort of constriction or tightness in the body, that pulse of the CSF will change.  Craniosacral therapy works to gently restore that flow to the body. Rather than forcefully pushing muscles or bones back into position, CST allows the tissues of the body to restore their own balance.  It also helps to stimulate the “rest and digest” or parasympathetic part of the nervous system, which decreases stress and allows the body to heal itself.

What is Craniosacral Therapy Good For?

CST is helpful in any situation where a relaxation of the muscles and nerves will improve health. In my practice, I use CST in three primary ways: to decrease pain, to improve digestion, and to decrease stress and anxiety.

 

  • Pain: The most common reason I use CST for is head, neck and shoulder pain.  Often these three are strongly related to each other and can often lead to headaches and migraines.  CST helps to open up and relax the muscles, restore lasting change to the posture, and regulate blood flow to the brain.  I also frequently use CST for hip and back pain, and it can be especially useful in pregnancy when mamas start to have low back and pelvic discomfort.
  • Digestion: Because CST helps the “rest and digest” part of the nervous system to work more efficiently, it can be quite helpful for regulating the digestive tract.  It can help to relax the digestion if there is diarrhea, and help it to move to relieve constipation.
  • Stress and Anxiety: Again, CST helps the “rest and digest” part of your nervous system take over, and decreases your “fight or flight” hormones, which can significantly decrease stress and anxiety. CST is performed with the patient lying down, face up on a comfortable table, under a blanket if you need extra warmth. It gives you time to let your brain relax and wander. This is particularly helpful for my patients who are struggling with physical issues that are impacted by stress and for those with ongoing stress that is impacting their health.

 

What is the Evidence for Craniosacral Therapy?

In the past dozen years, there have been a number of studies that have found benefit for CST for a range of conditions. Some of these include:

  • Pregnancy-related pelvic pain(1)
  • Neck and back pain, migraine, headache, fibromyalgia, epicondylitis, and pelvic girdle pain (including in comparison to other hands-on therapies) (2, 4)
  • Increased relaxation and decreased anxiety following mental stress (3)
  • Improved urinary tract function in patients with Multiple Sclerosis (5)

Feel free to contact me if you have questions!

  1. Sarah D Liddle 1, Victoria Pennick. Interventions for preventing and treating low-back and pelvic pain during pregnancy. Cochrane Database Systemic Review. 2015 Sep 30;2015(9)
  2. Heidemarie Haller, Romy Lauche, Tobias Sundberg et al. Craniosacral therapy for chronic pain; a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized control trials. BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders. 2019. Dec 31; 21(1):1.
  3. Mauro Fornari, Luca Carnevali, Andrea Sgoifo Single Osteopathic Manipulative Therapy Session Dampens Acute Autonomic and Neuroendocrine Responses to Mental Stress in Healthy Male Participants. J Am Osteopath Assoc.  2017 Sep 1;117(9):559-567.
  4. Thuridur Solveig Arnadottir 1, Arun K Sigurdardottir Is craniosacral therapy effective for migraine? Tested with HIT-6 Questionnaire. Complement Ther Clin Pract. 2013 Feb;19(1):11-4.
  5.  Gil Raviv 1, Shai Shefi, Dalia Nizani, Anat Achiron Effect of craniosacral therapy on lower urinary tract signs and symptoms in multiple sclerosis. Complement Ther Clin Pract.  2009 May;15(2):72-5.

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