what is it?
Craniosacral therapy uses very gentle touch and subtle manipulation to encourage the body to rebalance and heal itself. Rather than working on bones and muscles, the practitioner focuses on the connective tissue and the cerebrospinal fluids.
The craniosacral system consists of bones of the cranium (the part of the skull encasing the brain), the spinal cord and sacrum (the lower end of the spinal cord that forms a back wall to the pelvis). Cerebrospinal fluid, which nourishes and protects the membranes of this system as well as the connective tissue that envelops every organ, nerve and blood vessel in the body, is said to pulse at a rate of about 6-15 times per minute. This cranial rhythmic impulse (CRI) is independent of the circulatory and respiratory systems. Practitioners call it ‘the breath of life’ that affects every cell of the body.
Pressures from injury or tension on these membranes and connective tissue can create disturbances in the flow of CRI. The aim of treatment is to restore an even rhythm throughout the body.
Craniosacral therapy has its roots in osteopathy . Dr William Garner Sutherland, an American osteopath, identified the cranial rhythmic impulse in the 1930s and developed the cranial osteopathic approach for use by osteopaths. In the 1970s another American osteopath, Dr John Upledger, continued Sutherland’s work but introduced the idea that connective tissue can hold memories of past physical and emotional traumas that need to be released for complete healing of body and mind. Unlike Sutherland, he regarded CRI as a simple biomechanical process rather than a ‘vital force’.
A third American, Franklyn Sills, incorporated the theory of polarity therapy in the 1980s. Polarity therapy, developed by Dr Randolph Stone, an osteopath and naturopath in the US, is based on the free flow of the body’s own energy. This synthesis of Sutherland’s, Upledger’s and Stone’s approaches is the basis of craniosacral therapy.
what it’s supposed to do?
Craniosacral therapy claims to improve the functioning of the body’s organs, musculoskeletal, nervous and immune systems as well as benefiting psychological health. More commonly treated problems include arthritis, asthma, back pain and injuries, depression, digestive problems, premenstrual syndrome, sciatica, sports injuries and stress-related illnesses.
The first visit can last an hour and a half as the practitioner asks questions about personal and family medical history, your emotional health and lifestyle habits. Treatment is usually carried out lying down clothed on a couch, but you may be asked to sit or stand to release tension in particular joints or tissues. The practitioner uses their hands to apply subtle pressure on your head and the base of your spine (the sacrum) and occasionally to other parts of the body.
Most people find the experience deeply relaxing, but sometimes there is a spontaneous ‘unwinding’ of tension, said to result from the release of physical or emotional trauma. You may have feelings of sadness, happiness, tiredness, aching or tenderness during or after treatment.
Subsequent treatments last about 30-60 minutes. Problems may be resolved in a few sessions but could take months.
what’s the evidence?
There is no scientific evidence for the cranial rhythmic impulse. Practitioners say it is too subtle for current measuring instruments and claim that training enables their hands and fingers to detect the rhythm.