Craniosacral Therapy – Healing Through Touch

The field of medicine and healing encompasses varied techniques that have a common goal — to alleviate suffering and facilitate healing. The last few years have seen a revival of ancient trends in healing — the traditional Chinese science of acupuncture, the holistic techniques of Ayurveda and Naturopathy. Many of the alternative medicine techniques provide an external stimulus to accelerate healing while tapping into and enhancing the body’s healing potential. One such technique is craniosacral therapy (CST) which may be utilized as an adjunct by chiropractors, physical and occupational therapists, and osteopaths. To an onlooker or to one who receives this therapy, it appears relatively simplistic –- the therapist places his or her hands on the patient’s body and begins to move the hands without excess pressure, in a seemingly random fashion. However, for the therapist, the process is complex and based completely on the dynamic messages that the patient’s body conveys (gauged perceptively through sensation of hand placement).

CST is based on the principle that the cranial bones, the vertebrae and sacrum share an intrinsic rhythm with the ligaments, muscles and fascia that surrounds them. This rhythm, when synchronized, facilitates smooth movement and circulation of the cerebrospinal fluid. This in turn maintains good lubrication within the intervertebral and facet joints of the spine, and contributes to good health and functionality of the spine and other body systems. This rhythm is termed as the “Breath of Life” and is similar to the concept of “Prana” in Eastern medicine. What craniosacral therapists aim to do is “read” or tap into this rhythm and move their hands in sync with the body to normalize the system. Certain key points on the body –- such as the base of the skull, the area over the sacrum and diaphragm are given special importance to release the soft tissue or bony blocks, so that movement and flow are optimized.

TouchAs a physical therapist, I am able to relate to the importance of touch and hand placement to elicit optimal neuromuscular response. The theory of embryonic maturation also supports the principles of CST. During embryogenesis, the same dermal layer (ectoderm) that differentiates to form the skin also develops into the brain and nerves. So in a manner of speaking when we place our hands on any part of a person’s body, we are indirectly communicating with the nervous system. I would love to explore this avenue of treatment further and add it to my “toolbox” of techniques. Currently one can attend hands-on workshops and short-term courses to learn this technique; there are no degrees or certifications possible in CST. CST also gets its share of flak from skeptics. They question the very existence of a craniosacral rhythm and its link to health, and argue that there is lack of evidence to confirm efficacy of the approach. The hugely subjective nature of the entire process, with limited or no objective measurement also takes away points from the technique.

Detractors argue that CST is unscientific, and that it just poses a feel good effect. But so what if patients feel better based merely on the relaxing atmosphere and their faith in the healing process of CST? Isn’t that the ultimate goal of all healers? To send the patient home relaxed and in less pain? In an ideal world, a relatively low-risk technique that is non-invasive and offers relief from symptoms (subjective reports from patients) would be encouraged, even lauded. However, in a world where healthcare costs are constantly being contained, and where third party payers dictate number of visits for treatments; a process that lacks hard, in-your-face evidence will surely be frowned upon. It is important not to completely disregard techniques such as CST based solely on the lack of evidence. Opening our minds to other treatment forms and alternative medicine can only obliterate the boundaries that we set for ourselves and help us expand — professionally and personally.

Nirupama Shankar, PT, MHS

Nirupama Shankar, PT, MHS, is a physical therapist by profession, and has over 7 years of clinical experience in the field of neurological rehabilitation. She has treated individuals with stroke, traumatic brain injury, spinal cord injury, Parkinson's disease, multiple sclerosis, and amputations. She has also completed training modules and community education projects in Michigan and North Carolina.
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