CranioSacral Therapy

History and Practice

In 1970, Dr. John Upledger, an Osteopathic Physician and Surgeon, was asked to assist in the surgery of a patient, named Delbert, who had an odd symptom; the bottom of his feet were turning black, and were very painful. No one had been able to explain or help the problem; ultimately a plaque was found on the dural membrane that surrounds the brain and spinal cord, and contains the cerebrospinal fluid. Not knowing if this was somehow related, the decision to operate had been made.

Dr. Upledger’s job was to hold the dural membrane still while the surgeon delicately scraped off the plaque. A misguided movement of the knife could cut through the membrane and expose Delbert to meningitis, or nick the cord itself and paralyze Delbert. Dr. Upledger found he had to struggle to hold the membrane still: it moved at a steady, rhythmic rate of six cycles per minute.

The surgeon made nasty comments about Dr. Upledger’s inability to do a simple task, which infuriated Dr. Upledger; he had no idea what was happening, and neither did anyone else. Because he could see the monitors, it was clear that this pulsing was not related to either heartbeat or respiration. Delbert got better, but Dr. Upledger was on a mission to find out what had happened.

Dr. Upledger began his search for the answer with the research of Dr. William Sutherland, the father of Cranial Osteopathy. For some 20 years in the early 1900s, Dr. Sutherland had explored the concept that the bones of the skull were structured to allow for movement. For decades after, this theory remained at odds with the beliefs of the scientific and medical communities. Dr. Upledger believed, however, that if Dr. Sutherland’s theory of cranial movement was in fact true, this would help explain, and make feasible, the existence of the rhythmic movement he had encountered in surgery.

Dr. Upledger took his first class with the Cranial Osteopaths, quickly felt the cranial rhythm, and recognized it as the same rhythmic impulse he had observed within Delbert’s dural membrane. At that point Dr. Upledger began using cranial work in his own practice and was astounded by the successes he had with the technique.

From 1975 to 1983 he served as clinical researcher and Professor of Biomechanics at Michigan State University, where he supervised a team of anatomists, physiologists, biophysicists and bioengineers in research and testing. The plan was to either to prove the Cranial Osteopaths right, or to dis-associate the Osteopathic profession from the Cranial Osteopaths. The results not only confirmed Sutherland’s theory, but also led to clarification of the mechanisms behind this motion. Dr. Upledger’s continued work in the field ultimately resulted in his development of CranioSacral Therapy.

Around this time, still at Michigan State, Dr. Upledger began working with learning disabled and brain damaged children, children with ADD, C.P., dyslexia and autism, and discovered that many of them could be significantly helped with CST. He learned that 1 in 20 children in the Michigan schools suffered from some form of learning disability and estimated that CST could help at least 50% of those. But he was one of only six people in the state doing that work. He experimented with training some of his graduate students and caregivers who already worked with these kids and discovered that they were very adept at learning the techniques; in fact many of them were more adept than the medical professionals he had trained. They had great successes with the children. So he started teaching the work to others: nurses, chiropractors, massage therapists, physical therapists, occupational therapists and family members. He found that a caring attitude, an open mind and good hands were the most important qualifications for doing this work.

For teaching these techniques outside of the medical profession he was severely criticized by his peers within the Cranial Academy and the Osteopathic profession in general. But he feels strongly that this work is too important to be restricted to a few practitioners.

In order to teach the work widely and effectively, Dr. Upledger started his Institute in 1985. The Institute clinic now has 16 clinicians, and a Brain and Spinal Cord Dysfunction program. They teach over 600 seminars per year worldwide. There are now satellite Upledger Institutes in Europe and Japan, and UI has taught over 80,000 people in the past 20 years.

How does CranioSacral Therapy work?

CranioSacral Therapy works by helping the body’s natural healing mechanisms dissipate the negative effects of stress on the central nervous system.

This is accomplished through utilizing a physiological body system called the craniosacral system, which maintains the environment in which the central nervous system functions. It consists of the membranes and cerebrospinal fluid that surround and protect the brain and spinal cord, extending from the bones of the skull, face and mouth (which make up the cranium) down to the tailbone area (or sacrum). The role of this system in the support and function of the brain and spinal cord is so vital that an imbalance or restriction within it can cause sensory, motor and/or neurological problems.

Like the pulse of the cardiovascular system, the craniosacral system has a rhythm that can be felt throughout the body. Using a touch generally no heavier than the weight of a nickel, practitioners can monitor this rhythm to pinpoint the source of an obstruction or stress. Once a source has been determined, they can assist the natural movement of the fluid and related soft tissue to help the body self-correct. This simple action is often all it takes to remove a restriction. Other times, CST may be combined with other complementary therapies to help restore the body to its optimum functioning level.

What conditions can CranioSacral Therapy help?

Because of its influence on the functioning of the central nervous system, CranioSacral Therapy can benefit the body in a number of ways – from bolstering overall health and resistance to disease to alleviating a wide range of specific medical conditions.

Among CST’s largest patient groups are those suffering chronic symptoms that haven’t been aided by other approaches. CST is beneficial to those with head, neck or back injuries. Insomnia, fatigue, headaches, poor digestion, anxiety and temporomandibular joint (TMJ) dysfunction are just a few examples. CranioSacral Therapy works to reverse the debilitating effects of stress by providing the conditions in which the nervous system can rest and rejuvenate. In fact, it’s this capacity to reduce stress that’s leading an increasing number of people to include CST as part of their wellness routines.

The extremely light touch involved in the application of CST makes it a safe approach as well for children, infants and newborns with early traumas, including birth trauma. They especially can benefit from the timely identification and release of restrictions in the craniosacral system, thereby preventing future difficulties such as learning disabilities or hyperactivity.

Other conditions for which CranioSacral Therapy has shown to be effective are various sensory disorders. Among these are eye-motor coordination problems, autism, dyslexia, loss of taste or smell, tinnitus, vertigo and neuralgias such as sciatica and tic douloureux