Cranial Sacral Therapy
Cranial sacral therapy (CST) is sometimes also referred to as craniosacral 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 gentle pressure on the head, neck, and back to alleviate the stress and pain caused by compression. It can, therefore, help to treat a variety of problems.
It's thought that with the gentle manipulation of the bones in the skull, spine, and pelvis, the flow of cerebrospinal fluid in the central nervous system can be normalized. This removes "blockages" from the normal flow, which enhances the body's ability to heal.
Numerous massage therapists, physical therapists, osteopaths, and chiropractors are able to perform cranial sacral therapy. It can be part of an already-scheduled treatment visit or the sole reason for your visit.
Depending on what you're using CST to treat, you may benefit from between 3 and 10 sessions, or you might benefit from maintenance sessions. Your doctor will help you figure out what's right for you.
For the best results, book a consultation with a qualified health professional, such as an osteopath or a physical therapist.
Benefits and Uses
CST is thought to relieve compression in the head, neck, and back. This can soothe pain and release both psychological and physical stress and tension. It's also thought to help recover cranial movement and ease or release restrictions of the head, neck, and nerves.
Cranial sacral therapy can be used for individuals of all ages. It might be part of your treatment for problems like:
- migraines and headaches
- irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
- disturbed sleep cycles and insomnia
- sinus infections
- neck pain
- recurrent ear infections or colic in babies
- trauma recovery, including trauma from whiplash
- mood disorders like anxiety or depression
- difficult pregnancies
There's a lot of anecdotal evidence that CST is an effective treatment, but more research is required to scientifically determine this. There's evidence that it can alleviate stress and tension, though some research indicates that it may just be effective for infants, toddlers, and children.
Other studies, however, indicate that CST might be an effective treatment-- or part of an effective treatment plan-- for certain disorders.
One 2012 study found that it was effective at reducing symptoms in those with severe migraines. Another study found that people 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 licensed practitioner is minor discomfort following the treatment. This is usually temporary and will fade within 24 hours.
There are certain individuals who shouldn't 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 arrive for your appointment, your practitioner will ask you about your symptoms and any pre-existing conditions that you have.
You'll typically remain fully clothed during the treatment, so wear comfortable clothing to your consultation.
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 start at your head, feet, or near the middle 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 discover it's needed, they may carefully press or reposition you to normalize the flow of the cerebrospinal fluids. They might use tissue-release methods while supporting one of your limbs.
During the treatment, some people 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 conditions, with the strongest evidence supporting it as a treatment for conditions like headaches. Since there's a very low risk for adverse effects, some individuals may prefer this to prescription medications that have more risks.