What is 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, as a result, help to treat a number of conditions.
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 stabilized. This eliminates "blockages" from the normal flow, which enhances the body's ability to heal.
Numerous massage therapists, physical therapists, osteopaths, and chiropractors are able to conduct cranial sacral therapy. It can be part of an already-scheduled treatment visit or the only reason for your visit.
Depending on what you're using CST to treat, you might benefit from between 3 and 10 sessions, or you may benefit from maintenance sessions. Your healthcare provider will help you figure out what's right for you.
For the best results, schedule a consultation with a qualified health professional, such as an osteopath or a physical therapist.
Benefits and Uses
CST is thought to ease compression in the head, neck, and back. This can relieve pain and release both psychological and physical stress and tension. It's also believed to help recover cranial mobility and ease or release restrictions of the head, neck, and nerves.
Cranial sacral therapy can be used for individuals of all ages. It may be part of your treatment for problems 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 a lot of anecdotal evidence that CST is a reliable treatment, but more research is required to scientifically determine this. There's evidence that it can alleviate stress and tension, though some research suggests that it might just be effective for infants, toddlers, and children.
Other studies, however, indicate that CST may be a reliable treatment-- or part of an effective treatment plan-- for certain conditions.
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 qualified practitioner is minor discomfort following the treatment. This is usually temporary and will fade within 24 hours.
There are certain people that shouldn't use CST. These include individuals who have:
- Severe bleeding disorders
- A diagnosed aneurysm
- A history of recent traumatic head injuries, which might include cranial bleeding or skull fractures
Procedure and Technique
When you come for your appointment, your practitioner will ask you about your symptoms and any preexisting 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 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 gently hold your feet, head, or sacrum to listen to their subtle rhythms.
If they find it's needed, they might 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.
During 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 conditions, with the greatest evidence supporting it as a treatment for conditions like headaches. Because there's a very low risk for side effects, some people may prefer this to prescription medications that have more risks.