Craniosacral therapy (CST) is an alternative and somewhat controversial healing method that aims to release blockages and promote healing within the craniosacral system. This system includes the cerebrospinal fluid and membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord.
CST proponents feel that, within the craniosacral system, there is a connection between fluid in the head and fluid in the lower spine. Similar to a pulse, the flow of that fluid has a rhythm that is detectable at key points throughout the body. Trained therapists say they can monitor this rhythm and detect a blockage or source of stress. Then, using a gentle, hands-on approach, they try to release the blockage and increase the flow of fluid to relieve pain and encourage healing.
A typical CST session can last 1–2 hours, where the client lies down and remains fully clothed. The therapist lightly touches various points around the head, neck, spine, knees, and feet. There are no forceful adjustments or manipulations as in a chiropractic session. Gentle pressure techniques are used to work through any blocked areas. CST can be performed by trained therapists, chiropractors, or osteopaths.
CST includes variations of both osteopathic and chiropractic medicine, and two physicians are credited with developing its techniques. In the 1930s, Dr. William Sutherland studied the bones of the skull and their potential for movement along the cranial sutures. In the 1970s, Dr. John Upledger investigated the idea that skull bones were built for movement and further observed what he considered the rhythmic movement of the craniosacral system.
Supporters of CST say this kind of therapy is helpful in decreasing back and neck pain, migraine headaches, colic, otitis media, and joint problems. Some cancer patients also say that such therapy sessions have helped to relieve their tension and stress.
CST is somewhat controversial in the medical world. Traditional western medicine fundamentally disagrees with the theory that cerebrospinal fluid has a rhythm. The idea that cranial bones have the potential for movement is also frowned upon since the bones of an adult skull have long-since fused together. Critics of CST argue that there is a serious absence of controlled clinical trials proving the effectiveness of such therapy.
Parents who are considering a CST treatment for their child should speak to their physician, who may be able to refer them to a well-respected craniosacral therapist.
Reviewed by Dr. Sara Connolly, February 2019