Craniosacral therapy is difficult to define succinctly because there is a lot of unfamiliar terminology that needs defining. Second, the work is experientially-oriented. As a practitioner of craniosacral therapy for over 25 years now, I find it much easier to put my hands on somebody and feel a number of things that are happening rather than describe what I feel with words. Having said that, I will now attempt to give you a basic understanding of craniosacral therapy and how it might be a part of your healthcare regimen.

Craniosacral therapy addresses a specific system in the body that is used to assess and treat a variety of problems, many of which relate to proper neurological functioning. In this regard, craniosacral therapy has particular potential for helping individuals with a wide range of conditions. They include chronic pain syndromes unsuccessfully treated by other approaches, head neck or back injuries, and a number of stress-related conditions including insomnia, headaches, fatigue, anxiety and TMJ syndrome. 

A definition

I define craniosacral therapy simply, as follows: a physiological system made up of cranial bones, the sacrum and the membrane structures that connect these two areas of the body. There is a distinct rhythm within this system (the craniosacral rhythm) created by the flow of cerebrospinal fluid through the membrane complex. A craniosacral practitioner assesses this rhythm and uses the information to diagnose and treat imbalances within the body.

Craniosacral work revolves around the functioning of the central nervous system. Because the nervous system is really the master controller of the entire system, even subtle imbalances can have profound effects on a person’s health and well-being. That is why I often use sound therapy in conjunction with my craniosacral work to address the more subtle aspects of balance in the nervous system and in the energetic field that surrounds the body. 

The brain and spinal cord, essentially the core of our being, are encased in both bone and connective tissue (the brain in the bones of the skull, the spinal cord in the vertebral column at the base of which is the sacral bone). The connective tissue I refer to are actually the three specialized membranes called the meninges, or dura. The meninges are wrapped tightly around the brain and spinal cord, much like a stocking. In fact, the entire body is encased in connective tissue, called fascia, that acts as a sheath around various structures in the body, including bones, muscles, and organs and aids in the transmission of nervous impulses.

The cranial rhythm is the rhythm of the cerebrospinal fluid through the meninges that encase the central nervous system. The craniosacral therapist can detect changes in the amplitude and frequency of the cranial rhythm and use this information to help the body rebalance the way the nervous system, among other systems, are functioning.

In addition, using tuning forks to identify areas of dissonance can help me pinpoint where to focus my treatment. Under normal circumstances a person is continually regulating this physiological process. When an individual loses that ability to self-regulate, due to trauma, poor circulation or poor anatomical alignment, areas of restriction and diminished function are created.  As you can imagine, this can apply to any number of clinical scenarios, although the bulk of cranial work in my practice is performed on patients with neurological problems, chronic pain and long-standing psychological issues such as depression and anxiety.  Craniosacral therapy can also effect hormone secretions due the connection with pituitary and pineal glands, located deep inside the skull and in close contact with the meningeal system.

Another common reason for inhibition of proper functioning of the craniosacral system are scarring or adhesions, inflammation and vascular accidents. So any abnormalities in the structure and/or function of the nervous system, the musculoskeletal system, endocrine or respiratory system have the potential to alter functioning in the craniosacral system, and craniosacral therapy is an excellent way to address scars and/or adhesions. 

What is a session like? 

The craniosacral technique uses gentle, light-force manipulation of the aforementioned structures in the body, including the cranial bones. The technique relies largely on the body’s inherent ability for self-correction and therefore is quite non-invasive and does not cause “side effects,” so to speak. The skilled practitioner can detect a weakened cranial rhythm, asymmetry in the rhythm, and areas of restriction and then employs particular techniques, always gently, to accommodate proper movement of the structures involved.

Patients often ask me how so little force can change the positioning of the bones or other structures. If you think about it from the perspective of pure physics it makes sense. The craniosacral practitioner uses a minimal amount of force (approximately the weight of a nickel) over a long period of time (anywhere from 30 seconds to several minutes depending on individual circumstances, how quickly the person’s body responds). A more forceful manipulation may exert many times more pressure on the system in just a second, or fraction of a second. Therefore with craniosacral work, the amount of energy put into the body is the same as say, some chiropractic adjustments, just over a longer period of time. With a short and more forceful adjustment the body must adjust quickly to the changes, literally forced, upon it.

During a craniosacral treatment many patients experience different sensations in their bodies, sometimes strong images will come into the patient’s mind, others feel releases of emotion or tension and still others simply fall asleep. It depends on the individual response and oftentimes patients will report after two or three treatments they can feel their own cranial rhythm, either during the treatment or spontaneously during times when their bodies are still. 

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