Craniosacral Therapy

Because Craniosacral Therapy is both gentle and effective it is suitable for babies, children, pregnant women, older people and those of any age in acute or chronic pain or fragile health.


Its foundations as a therapy
In the early twentieth century William Sutherland was a final year student of osteopathy. As was the belief at the time he was taught that the bones of an adult’s skull – cranium - do not move. However, as he examined them the thought struck him that these bones were designed for motion. He went on to prove that yes, indeed, a subtle movement does occur between our cranial bones. In addition, we are indebted to him for his findings about the importance of interconnectedness between and subtle motion within tissues and fluids in the body. For example, he found that the cranial bones are connected to the sacrum – the triangular shaped bone at the base of the spine - by membranes. The motion of the cranial bones is connected with the motion of the sacrum and with the membranes and tissues of the central nervous system and very importantly, with the subtle rhythms of the cerebrospinal fluid which bathes the central nervous system. This matrix of interconnectedness and motion is at the heart of Craniosacral Therapy.

Craniosacral Therapy, a holistic approach
Reference to the ‘body’ in this description of craniosacral therapy is really shorthand for physical body and the mind, spirit and emotions. All of these aspects of us are linked. We are a wonderful unified whole. For example, we feel butterflies in our tummies or have sweaty palms when we are nervous; we blush when we are embarrassed or ashamed; we get sick with fright. Our bodies often express emotions when we can’t do so more directly. Alternatively, we may use our ‘mind’ and become rational and detached when we can’t cope with emotion. We have many wonderful adaptive mechanisms that can help us cope as best we can with challenging experiences.

Sometimes, there comes a time when these ways of coping break down. Some of the clients who come to see us experience this as physical pain, or a more vague but equally painful sense of being ‘out of balance’, lethargic, depressed or angry. As craniosacral therapists we are open to the possibility that there may be many contributory factors to the symptoms that clients bring to us.

For example, James came with lower back pain which he’d experienced for many years. It regularly disrupted his cricket and football playing as well as his sleep! Approaching forty, he felt it was time to look for treatment because he wanted to be more, not less active. In looking at his history it transpired that he had incurred a serious sports injury at school which resulted in back surgery. One of the effects of this was scar tissue which affected motion in the area. He’d worked as a gardener for some time during which he ignored back pains as much as possible. Realising he had to do something less physical he retrained in IT. When we met he had worked for some years in a job requiring lots of keyboard and mouse activity but without much awareness of good ergonomic principles so his posture strained his back, shoulders, arms and wrists. Emotionally, he often felt frustrated and angry because of the pain and the limits it imposed on his lifestyle. As treatment progressed he talked about the impact of the pain on his sex life including the resultant strain on his relationship.
It is clear there were a number of contributory factors to James’ pain. While the specifics vary this picture is quite common. The outcome of treatment for James was increased mobility with a need to commit to warming up and cooling down before and after exercise. James now has occasional ‘maintenance’ Craniosacral therapy treatments; with a more urgent session if he neglects to look after himself. He also has deep tissue massage reduce tension and support flexibility in his body.

How does Craniosacral Therapy work?
In the course of our lives we experience stress, illness and injury - as well as joy and happiness! While we recover from these it is also the case that we may hold the effects of them in our fluids and tissues. This is often experienced as congestion or stagnation. An effect of this is diminished ability for fuller health and vitality and the recurrence of symptoms. The functioning of the body may become compromised where the natural rhythmical motions of the fluids and tissues are inhibited.

The craniosacral therapist uses a light touch of the hands to palpate or ‘listen’ to the body’s tissues and fluids. Differences in their motion and quality can show where there are areas of stagnation and restriction.

The intention of the craniosacral therapist is to listen to the information conveyed by the client through their body to support the body’s own ability to self-heal.
The wisdom in the body decides what to reveal to the therapist! For example, Emma came with a shoulder problem. The first response of her body to my contact was from her pelvis. Emma then remembered that she had a particularly bad fall from a horse many years previously but had had no treatment. She had not mentioned it when I took her history, because falling was such a run of the mill experience for her at that time in her life. It was obviously important that I pay attention to her pelvis before her shoulder could heal. The body speaks and heals in its own order of priority! It may also have been that her shoulder was painful as part of the body’s compensations for the pelvic injury.

Many healing forms refer to the body’s own inherent life force, health and capacity to heal itself. Craniosacral therapy is no exception. Dr Sutherland called it the Breath of Life. He believed that it is expressed and distributed in the rhythmic, tide-like motions of the cerebrospinal fluid. Inertia and stasis result – as we shall see in the case of Marsha below – where this basic ordering principle is compromised through injury or where ‘shock’ is held in the body.
Marsha came for treatment because she had recurring headaches which were not responding to other treatments and the scans that her GP had organised were clear. Two years previously she had had a car accident during which she sustained whiplash in addition to other injuries. She did not see any connection between the accident and the headaches because they did not start until nine months later. I asked about the circumstances of the accident. It happened soon after the death of her mother when she was still in acute grief and quite exhausted. She had experienced a double trauma in a short space of time.
The circumstances of one’s life including emotional support available to us at the time of any traumatic event have a strong impact on our recovery.
It soon became clear to me that there was still some shock held in the tissues of her upper back and neck. This is quite a common occurrence after whiplash and other physical shocks to the body. Her body’s membranes seemed quite stuck and were unable to express their inherent motion. Treatment helped to resolve Marsha’s headaches by allowing release of the shock and supporting the tissues and fluids to find a new balance which allowed them to be as fully healthy and functioning as possible.
The intention, therefore, in Craniosacral Therapy, is to support and facilitate this intrinsic capacity for inherent good health.

What happens during a treatment session?
At the first session, there is an in depth history taking which may move from present health and symptoms to past experiences including accidents, illness, dental work, surgery, emotional trauma and birth.
The most important proviso for the ‘hands-on’ part of the session is that you are comfortable. How you are positioned may depend on whether you have chronic disability, acute or chronic pain or are pregnant.
Adults and older children will lie or sit supported on a treatment couch or sit on a chair.
Younger children and toddlers, who find it too challenging to sit still, can stay on the floor with their toys, where they are joined by the therapist!
Babies usually continue to be held by their parent throughout the session.
All clients remain fully clothed, unless direct skin contact (following consent from the client or parent) is needed for examination.
Once you are settled as comfortably as possible the therapist makes contact with her hands. There is often the expectation that a Craniosacral Therapist works only with the head, “Cranio whatsit? That’s to do with the head isn’t it?”, in fact we touch wherever the therapist feels therapeutically necessary. The client needs to feel comfortable with the contact, so permission is vital.
For those who have a history of abusive touch e.g. because of sexual abuse or physical violence, the negotiation of contact is an important part of the healing process. Sometimes actual contact may not occur for a number of sessions while trust and safety issues are worked with.
The first experience you may notice is the lightness of the therapist’s touch. Once you get used to this you may get a sense of relaxation. You may also feel sensations such as tingling, pins and needles, heat, emotional states, movement and pulsations during the session. These may happen when changes occur in the body. For example, John became aware of tingling along his arms after the vertebrae in his neck realigned in a session. This worried him a little. Fortunately, John remembered an invitation we give to our clients – to please tell us about worries as they occur, so that we can support the client regarding any concerns.
Some people fall asleep during treatment, while others remain alert. There is no right or wrong way to be.

Aine with cst client