CranioSacral Therapy, or CST for short, is a light-touch manual therapy that focuses on improving the structure and function of the body, primarily through the CranioSacral System. When the body becomes restricted or imbalanced, it begins to make structural adjustments based on the demands imposed on it. Those structural adjustments, over time, affect our overall health and performance and are often responsible for the wide range of chronic pains, dis-eases and popular syndromes of today.
Where do these restrictions and imbalances come from, you ask? Great question! They come from life. We have all at some point or another had some trauma. Some of us way more than others but, we have all had trauma. Trauma can be any kind of injury or experience such as having a fall, breaking bones, concussions, abuse, car accidents, military service or any other trauma you can think of including birth. Trauma can be physical, mental or emotional. When our bodies experience trauma, they tighten up and get rigid. We are fluid beings and as such need to be flexible and in motion. This rigidity can be a problem because it starts to create compensation patterns in our bodies. Over time, those compensation patterns stack up and start to create larger dysfunction that can lead to pain and dis-ease in the body. It is not uncommon to find the headaches you’ve been having are coming from the ankle you sprained 20 years ago. This is because all of our parts are connected to each other by fascia. If you have ever peeled the skin off a chicken before cooking it, you may have noticed this thin spiderweb-like material between the skin and the muscle. It’s called fascia. We have one piece of it and it connects ALL of our parts together. From the smallest cells to our largest organ, our skin, and everything in between. I like to use the analogy of a fishing net spread out in the yard. At first, all of the squares are the same size and shape but, if you pinch the net anywhere, you can create a little twist and tension in the net. Then, if you add more twists and more tension in other places, eventually the squares are all misshapen and before you know it you are dragging them across the yard. CranioSacral Therapy helps your body release those twists and tensions. So, areas that have been restricted begin to be less impacted. Blood, Lymph and CerebroSpinal Fluid begin to flow easier and freer through these areas. Your nerves, tissues and cells can once again become full and nourished and your body can be restored to a more functional and less painful state of being.
CranioSacral Therapy is not a new therapy. It has been around for decades. Its roots are securely planted in Osteopathy which was developed in the second half of the 1800s by Dr. Andrew Taylor Still. He believed that the body is a unit, that it has it’s own self-healing and self-correcting mechanism, that structure equals function, strains in the body will produce strains on other parts of the body and drugs can be harmful to the body. He opened the first Osteopathic college in Kirksville, Missouri in 1892.
One of Dr. Still’s students, Dr. William Garner Sutherland became consumed with the idea that the sutures in the skull were not fused as everyone had been previously taught. His peers thought he was nuts but, he would not be dissuaded and found a way to test his theory. He devised a helmet that, with the help of thumb screws, he could tighten in strategic places and actually restrict the motion of each individual bone in the skull and he could record the results of those restrictions. There was no denying that Sutherland was on to something and so in the 1940’s Cranial Osteopathy was born. He taught that the cranial bones, the membranes attaching to them, the membranes surrounding the spinal cord, and the sacrum, together with the CerebroSpinal Fluid (CSF) make up a moving body system now known as the CranioSacral System.
In 1971, Dr, John E. Upledger, a young osteopath, was surprised to find a slow, rhythmic pulsating movement within a patient’s spinal meninges (membranes) while he was assisting another doctor with a spinal operation. He was tasked with holding this membrane still. Try as he might, he
was unable to do so. He’d never seen anything like it before and his curiosity was piqued. A little later in his career, he conducted a research study at the University of Michigan to either confirm or disprove the movement of the cranial bones. He was able to confirm Dr. Sutherland’s theory of movement and the CranioSacral System. He became obsessed with the idea that by correcting restrictions in this system, many poorly understood conditions of the brain and spinal cord could be successfully treated. He went on to develop a step-by-step treatment protocol that he called CranioSacral Therapy. In 1985 he opened up the Upledger Institute in West Palm Beach. Today there are over 125,000 therapists in 110 countries and more than 50 satellites that teach CranioSacral Therapy all over the world. Dr. Upledger died in 2012 but his legacy continues in every therapist who practices CranioSacral Therapy and we are immensely grateful and continuously in awe of this amazing work!
The CranioSacral System is composed of your Brain & Spinal Cord, the CerebroSpinal Fluid in and around them, the Meninges (membranes) protecting them, and the bones those Meninges attach to. Your Brain and Spinal Cord are encased in and protected by a three-layer membrane system called the meninges. Cerebral Spinal Fluid flows around and within the Brain and Spinal Cord inside these meninges. The CranioSacral Systems’ main function is producing Cerebral Spinal Fluid (CSF). This Cerebral Spinal Fluid is absolutely critical to a healthy CranioSacral System. It is responsible for cushioning, protecting and providing your brain with much-needed buoyancy so that it doesn’t collapse under its own weight. It also acts as a conductor for nerve impulses traveling through your Central Nervous System as well as supplying nutrients and removing wastes from the tissues within the system which include your brain and spinal cord. Due to its intimate relationship with your Central Nervous System, which is responsible for seamlessly orchestrating every single thing that happens in our bodies, the CranioSacral System directly influences and in turn is influenced by all 11 of your body’s Systems. As a result of this intimate relationship, restrictions or abnormalities in the structure or function of your CranioSacral System can have profound effects on all of your body’s systems and vice versa.
CranioSacral Therapy has an extremely wide range of benefits. It promotes parasympathetic dominance which is the “rest and digest” part of your nervous system that controls your heart rate, blood pressure, respiration and promotes digestion, as well as decreasing adrenaline and reducing Carbon Dioxide in the bloodstream. It also decreases anxiety and improves sleep. Additionally, CranioSacral therapy can facilitate joint decompression and soft tissue release, in the fascia and muscle tissue, diaphragms of the pelvis and thorax, organs and their membranes, nerves, glands, lymphatic, endocrine, and circulatory tissues as well as membranes of the spinal and cranial dura. Added to that it, supports and encourages Somato-Emotional Release, which is when emotional energy gets stuck in the tissues of our body. Emotions can often be released through guided verbal dialog between the therapist, client, and their inner wisdom.
These releases can all happen at a cellular level allowing our bodies to decompress, realign and regain a more balanced and functional symmetry. As if all of that wasn’t enough, CST also helps facilitate fluid exchange throughout the body. Fluid lubricates tissue, contributing to muscle fiber length and strength, increases vascular and lymphatic flow, helps to regulate temperature in the body, distributes electrolytes, balances hormones, improves nervous system function, and enhances cellular integrity. This fluid exchange is paramount to the cerebrospinal fluid in particular. This is one of if not the most important application of CranioSacral Therapy. The CSF is responsible for protecting, nourishing, cleaning, and lubricating the brain and spinal cord and needs to be kept working seamlessly. CST supports and encourages the body’s natural healing process, so it can be applied in almost any clinical setting with the exception of any condition where any changes in cranial pressure could be dangerous, such as acute stroke, aneurism, hemorrhage, or recent spinal tap. Anytime there is a question about the safety of a treatment, you should always get your doctor’s permission first.
I want to be absolutely clear, CranioSacral Therapy is not a substitute for medical care! That being said, it is my absolute opinion that, although everybody can benefit from a little CranioSacral
Therapy in their life, those who seem to notice the most drastic benefits are those who have reached a plateau on their healing journey. Those folks who are trying anything and everything and they and their doctors are still stumped as to why they haven’t gotten better yet.
CST is generally performed in a massage-type setting(on a massage table, with low lighting, possibly low music). You will remain fully clothed for the treatment. It is recommended that you wear something that is comfortable. The session will begin with the therapist assessing your CranioSacral Rhythm(CSR). This is done by very lightly placing their hands on several “listening stations”. They may be but are not limited to your feet, knees, pelvis, rib cage, shoulders and head. The touch that is used for this is typically about 5 grams which is the weight of a nickel. Based on the findings of the assessment the therapist will then begin treatment. The therapist will use a very light touch and very gentle traction to encourage and support your body while it releases restrictions. During the treatment, you may or may not feel anything. Some clients report feeling heat, twitching, pulsing, softening, aching, numbness, and/or tingling. Experiences during a CranioSacral Therapy session are as unique as the client or the therapist. Different experiences from treatment to treatment are also common. Some clients will experience a deep state of relaxation and drift to sleep, while others may talk a great deal. The treatment can be experienced with little movement or be a full-body experience. The therapist may support your limbs or your head and neck during a session to gently encourage the release of restrictions. Through the release of these restrictions, you may recall past trauma, shock, or injury. Recall and release of these occurrences can reverse dysfunction, improve function and boost overall vitality.
Okay, come on, admit it…you are fascinated and intrigued! I know I still am. I came to CranioSacral Therapy originally as a patient with debilitating migraines. I had had them since I was a small child and as I grew they became increasingly more persistent. By the time I was in my 30’s, I was having 3-5 full-blown migraines a week. My good days were just plain headache days. I hurt all of the time. I had tried everything, I’d been to several different specialists, tried lots of drugs, tried chiropractic, massage, acupuncture, aromatherapy, diet and exercise. Nothing worked. In 2012, I was referred to a CranioSacral Therapist and by the 7th visit, I was headache-free! I was blown away! So much so, that I started taking classes and changed my career. That was in 2013. Now I work in Palm Beach Gardens at the Upledger Institute as a CranioSacral Therapist as well as Deep Roots Wellness in Cooper City and I still maintain a small mobile practice in Broward County. I treat humans, horses and small animals in my practice.
I encourage you to learn more about CranioSacral Therapy and consider giving it a try. You can learn more at upledger.com. If you are near Palm Beach Gardens, you can book an appointment with me, RoseMary Hurley, LMT, CST #MA75481 at the Upledger Clinic by phone at: (561)622-4706 or in Cooper City at Deep Roots Wellness at: (954)434-1800.