What is Cranial Sacral Therapy?
Cranial sacral therapy (CST) is sometimes also referred to as cranio-sacral therapy. It's a kind of bodywork that relieves compression in the bones of the head, sacrum (a triangular bone in the lower back), and spinal column. CST is noninvasive. It uses mild pressure on the head, neck, and back to alleviate the stress and pain caused by compression. It can, therefore, help to treat a number of conditions.
It's believed that through the gentle manipulation of the bones in the skull, spine, and pelvis, the flow of cerebrospinal fluid in the central nervous system can be stabilized. This removes "blockages" from the normal flow, which enhances the body's ability to recover.
Many massage therapists, physical therapists, osteopaths, and chiropractors have the ability to perform cranial sacral therapy. It can be part of an already-scheduled treatment visit or the sole purpose for your appointment.
Depending on what you're using CST to treat, you might benefit from between 3 and 10 sessions, or you might benefit from maintenance sessions. Your doctor will help you determine what's right for you.
For the best results, schedule an appointment with a qualified health professional, such as an osteopath or a physical therapist.
Benefits and Uses
CST is believed to relieve compression in the head, neck, and back. This can relieve pain and release both psychological and physical stress and tension. It's also thought to help repair cranial movement and ease or release restrictions of the head, neck, and nerves.
Cranial sacral therapy can be used for people of all ages. It may be part of your treatment for conditions like:
- Migraines and headaches
- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
- Disturbed sleep cycles and insomnia
- Sinus infections
- Neck pain
- Recurring ear infections or colic in infants
- Trauma recovery, including trauma from whiplash
- Mood disorders like anxiety or depression
- Complicated pregnancies
There's lots of anecdotal evidence that CST is an effective treatment, but more research is required to scientifically determine this. There's evidence that it can relieve stress and tension, though some research indicates that it might only be effective for infants, toddlers, and children.
Other studies, however, suggest that CST might be an effective treatment-- or part of an effective treatment plan-- for certain conditions.
One 2012 study found that it was effective at minimizing symptoms in those with severe migraines. Another study found that individuals with fibromyalgia experienced relief from symptoms (including pain and anxiety) thanks to CST.
Side Effects and Risks
The most common side effect of cranial sacral therapy with a qualified practitioner is mild discomfort following the treatment. This is often temporary and will diminish within 24 hours.
There are certain people that should not use CST. These include people that have:
- Severe bleeding disorders
- A diagnosed aneurysm
- A history of recent traumatic head injuries, which may include cranial bleeding or skull fractures
Procedure and Technique
When you come for your consultation, your practitioner will ask you about your symptoms and any kind of pre-existing conditions that you have.
You'll usually remain fully clothed during the therapy, so wear comfortable clothing to your appointment.
Your session will last about an hour, and you'll likely begin by lying down on your back on the massage table. The practitioner might begin at your head, feet, or near the center of your body.
Using five grams of pressure (which is about the weight of a nickel), the provider will carefully hold your feet, head, or sacrum to listen to their subtle rhythms.
If they detect it's needed, they may gently press or reposition you to normalize the flow of the cerebrospinal fluids. They may use tissue-release methods while supporting one of your limbs.
Throughout the therapy, some individuals experience different sensations. These might include:
- Feeling deep relaxation
- falling asleep, and later recalling memories or seeing colors
- Sensing pulsations
- Having a "pins and needles" (numbing) sensation
- Having a hot or cold sensation
Cranial sacral therapy may be able to provide relief for certain problems, with the strongest evidence supporting it as a treatment for conditions like headaches. Because there's a very low risk for adverse effects, some people might prefer this to prescription medications that come with more risks.