Craniosacral Manipulation

Craniosacral Manipulation is a gentle healing art that works with a subtle yet palpable rhythm emanating from the brain and spinal cord. This work activates one’s inherent self-healing capacity and facilitates deep changes within the entire self, in both structure and function.

The craniosacral concept was first articulated in the early 1900s by an American Osteopathic doctor, William Sutherland. Dr. Sutherland observed that the bones of the head have an intrinsic rhythm, a movement that is palpable by the human hand. He spent more than 50 years researching what he discovered, and applying this knowledge to create a powerful therapeutic modality. Today, practitioners within and outside the Osteopathic profession are now utilizing Sutherland’s craniosacral principles and techniques. Naturally, this work has evolved since its beginnings, as new practitioners gain experience, and new research and science emerge.

Essentially, the craniosacral system includes all the bones of the head and spine, the brain and spinal cord, and all of its surrounding membranes and fluids. Research has shown that this inherent rhythm can be observed in the membranous tissues during brain/spinal cord surgery, and that it is measurable using delicate, state-of-the-art scientific instruments. More and more anatomists, doctors and therapists recognize the validity of this vital, intrinsic mechanism.

In terms of health, the importance of the craniosacral system lies in the fact that it embraces all of the central nervous system. Any changes to the surrounding environment of the brain and spinal cord (i.e. tissues, fluid and bones) can produce profound local and systemic affects. Specifically, changes in the craniosacral rhythm (in terms of amplitude, rate, symmetry and vitality) are markers of disorganized physiological function, which leads to pathological disorder and illness. There are numerous causes of craniosacral dysfunction, notably: birth injures, impaired childhood development, accidents and trauma at any age, surgery, and so forth. Also, restrictions within the system tend to compromise one’s natural ability to heal, which may cause or aggravate many conditions.

Craniosacral Manipulation is a gentle, hands-on method for evaluating and treating disorders within the craniosacral system. It is suitable for all ages – babies, children, adults and the elderly. When indicated, Craniosacral Manipulation helps restore health, increases vitality and our natural self-healing capacity. It can improve one’s clarity of mind and emotional balance.

Some specific conditions we have worked with are: migraine headaches, traumatic brain and spinal cord injuries, chronic fatigue, birth traumas, fibromyalgia, depression, whiplash, sinusitis, chronic neck and back pain, TMJ (temporomandibular joint syndrome), post-surgical dysfunction, tinnitus and middle ear problems, hearing and vision problems, dyslexia, learning disabilities, post-natal recovery, pediatric problems, nerve pain and more.

Craniosacral Manipulation is only indicated when there is a dysfunction within the craniosacral system. Our work is with the entire individual, helping to restore function and vitality, and not with a condition or disease per se.

Why Cranio-Sacral Treatment? 

by Arnie Lade

Did Mother Nature make a mistake when designing the bones of your head? Some anatomists might have you think so, such as when they state that the bones of your head are not meant to move! That’s what I was taught in my anatomy class back in the early 1970s (along with such defunct ideas such as that brain tissues cannot regenerate, and that consciousness is strictly located in the brain).

I too accepted the belief of the immobility of the cranial bones in the early days of practice until experience taught me otherwise. I first heard about an innovative therapy focusing on the cranial bones being done by osteopathic doctors in the United States in the early 1980s. I became intrigued, and so I bought a newly minted book called Cranio-Sacral Therapy by John Upledger. This book was certainly interesting to read, but it seemed nearly impossible for me to comprehend and apply without practical instruction.

As fate would have it, I was in Chengdu, China a short time later doing some advanced acupuncture studies when I heard about an interesting Osteopath from Seattle who had recently given a short course on Cranio-Sacral manipulation to my Chinese teachers at the college. And that’s how I was introduced to my Cranio-Sacral teacher, Dan Bensky DO, in 1985.

I found that osteopathic anatomy embraced the notion that the skull is mobile – that nature makes all things for a reason – even though we just might have to dig deeper sometimes to understand it’s reason.

In simple language inherent mobility of the skull means that the bones are designed to move, and that’s why we have cranial sutures. If there were no need for movement we would surely have only one skull bone not 22. Sutures are spaces between bones, the human equivalent to the earth’s fault lines that separate larger plates of the earth. And sutures are not empty spaces, they are richly filled with connective tissue, blood and nerves. They move in relation to the internal forces within in the skull. The cranial bones also allow for absorption of outside forces that you may encounter whether it be a bump, a fall or blow to the head or the tremendous compressive forces of birth.

Indeed nature loves movement in all forms. In our bodies there are many subtle rhythms constantly working to keep the entire organism going. Breathing and heartbeat come easily to mind. Then of course there is digestion, muscular activity, nerve firings, urinary production, lymphatic movement and so forth.

Another even lesser-known movement is also occurring inside your nervous system! The brain itself has it’s own perceptible inherent motion, and so does the surrounding cerebrospinal fluid. These two movements emanating from the brain and it’s surrounding fluids create a reciprocal wave like motion throughout the bones of your head and spinal cord all the way to your tailbone. This movement is called the cranial rhythmic impulse: a quiet, profound rhythm which I learned to feel more than 25 years ago in my first Cranio-Sacral training.

We all know that we are each unique and that our health fluctuates over time, and that the effects of illness and injury can stay with us far longer than we would wish. This past and present state of our wellbeing is very much reflected in how our body moves and functions. This too can be assessed via the cranial rhythmic impulse.

As a therapist I learned to appreciate both normal and abnormal functioning within the Cranio-Sacral system. I learned to sense the effects of trauma and tension, and how these can distort healthy functioning. How trauma changes our structure over time, and how we accommodate to illness and patterns of strain and dysfunction. How the brain and nervous system can also distort itself, and function below it’s capacity. Problems may arise after injury or trauma that only show up with time. I’m think of both infant and adult where birth trauma leads to learning impairment or the seemingly slight head injuries of an adult in time give way to sleepiness or headaches.

For example, I had a mother come with her infant son a few years ago, referred by their midwife. He was just a couple of days old, and he could only nurse when lying on his left side. Lying on the right side, he had no ability to suck! On examining his little skull bones it was obvious that the right occipital and temporal bones were still overlapping after the normal compression during birth. For some reason his bones had failed to decompress and spread. Also the occipital bone was not aligned properly. With gentle coaxing I was able to free the bones and reposition them then and there, and immediately he was able to suck normally on both sides to the great relief of his mother!

Of course, injuries do not always lead to such dramatic dysfunction. We as human beings have a marvelous self-healing and self-corrective capacity, but not in every case. And those are the ones that I see at my office.

This leads to the primary purpose of Cranio-Sacral Manipulation, which is to restore normal functioning to this system. Through touch and gentle manual manipulation of the bones and tissues the system is gently guided towards an optimal state of functioning, so that the brain and nervous system can flourish. This leads to a renewal of vitality and functioning in the entire self. People often tell me of greater ease of movement, feeling more rested and alive, of better thinking and feeling.

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